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mmmwn n . mgh 




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3 



^OWNING 
rHROZJGH LIFE 







Clowning T'hrough Jjfe 


sr 

€DDIE FVY 
^LVIN F. HARLOW 



ILLUSTRATED 


e. T. VUTTON &? COMPANY 
68i TlfTH AVENUE, rORK 


CLOWlSSHSti THROUGH LIFE, COPYRIGHT 1928, 
BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED :: PRINTED IN U. S. A, 


First Printing January, 1925 

Second Printing March, 1928 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 


Eddie Foy in “That Casey Girl” .... Frontispiece 

FACING PAGE 

Eddie Foy at the Age of 13 22 

Eddie Foy’s Mother 42 

Jim Fisk, Billy Emerson 52 

Jim Thompson 88 

Dodge City in 1878 112 

Leadville in 1879 128 

Charles Vivian, J. L. Carncross [142 

Rose Howland, the First Mrs. Foy 154 

Where Eddie Foy Lived in Butte, Mont 188 

James J. Corbett, Kate Castleton 216 

Eddie Foy in "Au Baba” 234 

Lola Sefton, the Second Mrs. Foy 240 

Emjie Foy in “Hotel Topsy-Turvey” 250 

Madeline Morando, the Third Mrs. Foy .... 266 

Eddie Foy in “Mr. Bluebeard” 278 

Eddie Foy in “Fife. Faff. Fouf” 286 

Eddie Foy in “The Earl and the Girl” .... 298 
Eddie Foy in “Mr. Hamlet of Broadway” .... 302 

Ekoie Foy and His Family 310 

Eddie Foy, His Children AND Mr. Watterson . . 318 

Marie Combs, the Fourth Mrs. Foy 326 




CLOWNING 
THROUGH LIFE 




CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 


I 

There was a tradition in our family that I could 
dance on the day I was born. Perhaps someone 
observed that even the infantile kicking I did dur- 
ing those first few hours was done in rhythm. And 
perhaps my voice was no less melodious that day 
than it was in later years when I was drawing a 
large salary for doing alleged singing with it. 
However that may be, I can testify from first- 
hand knowledge that I was singing and dancing 
very early in life. 

Persons who have marveled for years at my 
finely attuned artistic temperament will under- 
stand it all when they learn that I was bom in 
Greenwich Village. Yes, sir, at number 23 Eighth 
Avenue, New York City, just above Abingdon 
Square, where lived the beautiful Polly Perkins 
of the old song which probably few people today 
have ever heard. There I was born on March 
9th, 1856. How long, long ago that seems! Al- 
most as if it had been in another world! When I 

3 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

sometimes start reminiscing down at the Lambs’ 
Club, I can tell by the way some of the youngsters 
around there look at me that I seem like a tercen- 
tenarian to them. But when I go out in the bil- 
liard room and now and then beat fellows forty 
or fifty years younger than myself at either bank- 
shot or three cushions, I don’t seem so ancient. At 
such times I tell them sagely that a man is only 
as old as he thinks he is. 

My father, Richard Fitzgerald, ran a tailor 
shop. It occupied the front room of a two-story 
building, and we lived very comfortably in the 
other rooms above and back of the shop. Father 
and Mother had been married over in old Lim- 
erick a few years before and had crossed the ocean 
along with the hordes of Irish, English, and Ger- 
man immigrants who came to this country by the 
hundred thousand in those three or four decades 
just before the Civil War. Like Saint Patrick, we 
came of ‘dacent people.’ My mother’s brother 
was a missionary in some of the Pacific islands, 
and a very influential one, I’m told. I was brought 
up in strict piety, and though some folks may not 
believe it, the effects thereof never quite departed 
from me. 

There is almost nothing in New York now to 
remind me of what it was when I was a small boy; 
tihe old City Hall, of course, nearly twice my age, 
4 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

but even there, the surroundings are so changed 
that it doesn’t look the same. And by the way, 
New York was no mean city when I was born, 
either — ^nearly 750,000 population, and still it 
didn’t cover Manhattan Island. And you could 
still see an occasional pig or goat or flock of chick- 
ens at large on the street in Greenwich Village or 
Chelsea. 

The Tweed Ring was weaving its net about the 
city in my infancy. Bill Tweed was one of the 
commissioners who finished the Ludlow Street 
Jail the year I was born — but not in anticipation 
of my coming, as I can hear someone suggesting 
immediately. On the contrary, Bill himself had 
the misfortune to die in a cell there some twenty 
years later. The East Side was a bit wild and 
woolly in those days, but no worse than it is now. 
The Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys spent 
most of their energy in fighting each other ; today 
the slums harbor crooks and gunmen who are more 
dangerous enemies to society than any of sixty or 
seventy years ago. The East Side bullies of the 
Civil War period usually stayed on their own res- 
ervation, though once they took possession of the 
City Hall and held it for an hour. That, however, 
was just by way of pulling off a daring stunt. 
Mayor Fernando Wood was their friend, anyhow. 

The up- and down-town busses were running 

5 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


long before I was born, and street car lines — the 
franchises for which were invariably secured by 
bribery — ^were becoming numerous in the city. 
You could go away up to Yorkville and Jones’s 
Woods and even to Manhattanville and Harlem 
on them. The first Atlantic cable was laid when 
I was two years old ; it broke immediately, and 
another one was not completed for ten years. 

It was a different America then from what it is 
now. Life was simpler, and although there was 
much rottenness in a few of the larger city gov- 
ernments and a certain amount of crirne every- 
where, yet I do not believe that we were on the 
whole as lawless a people as we are today. And in 
spite of the numberless conveniences and amuse- 
ments devised for us today, I do not think we are 
any happier. The rich child, who has all the toys 
that the market affords, often isn’t as happy, in 
fact, is seldom as happy as the poor country boy 
who hasn’t anything to play with save what he 
makes himself. 

That was an age of gorgeous clothing and lots of 
it. The single outfit in which a woman went on 
street then would clothe about six women today. 
And the hoopskirtsl One of the amazements of 
my childhood was the vast difference in my 
mother’s appearance when she was at home doing 
her housework and when she was all dressed up to 
6 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

go to church — ^which we attended regularly. At 
such times she was a bit awe-inspiring to me; and 
I am sure that Sunday dress and those hoops made 
her feel the solemnity of the occasion more keenly. 
A woman who appeared in public without hoops 
looked like a collapsed umbrella, and was usually 
set down as belonging to the “lower clahses.” 

The men wore flowing trousers with plaids 
sometimes eight inches across, and plenty of hair 
and whiskers. Father — like my Mother — ^was a 
sort of plain person on working days, but on Sun- 
days and festive occasions he felt it necessary to 
advertise his business by displaying some of the 
latest ideas in men’s snappy clothes. They put 
bear grease and pomatum on their hair then, so 
that thick “tidies” had to be hung on chair backs 
to keep them from ruining the upholstery. Ten or 
twenty years ago we laughed at the idea of men 
gumming up their hair that way; and here the 
cycle has been completed once more, and boys and 
young men are greasing and pasting their hair 
until some of them look positively rancid to me. 

There are so many things that stand out in my 
memory as making the old New York different from 
the new — the public wells, for example. Of course 
the city had the Croton water supply long before 
I was born — ^with a reservoir where the Public 
Library stands now; but all through my boyhood 

7 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

and for years afterward those town pumps were 
scattered about over lower Manhattan, and came 
in mighty handy for the small boy who wanted a 
drink every half hour, as small boys always do. 
The wells were usually along the curb, at street 
corners or in the middle of blocks j and if you could 
induce someone to work the long wooden handle 
for a moment or two, you just put your mouth to 
the wooden spout and got a drink and a face-wash 
at the same time. 

The old Astor House— the building still stood 
recently on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey, 
though I understand it’s been torn down now — 
was the great hotel of the city in my early boy- 
hood. I’ve hung about its entrance more than once, 
looking longingly in at the magnificence inside. It 
passed away as a hotel ages ago and was given over 
to stores ; but only recently one of the old curved 
signs bearing the words, “Astor House,” still hung 
over a side entrance of the building on Barclay 
Street. 

Just across the street, at Broadway and Ann, 
P. T. Barnum was running his famous museum as 
far back as I can remember. Oh, how I longed to 
see the inside of it I But after I grew old enough to 
yearn for it, I never had the money. For I was 
left an orphan at a rather early age and had to help 
the rest of the family scratch for a living. 

8 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Of course I was too young to know what it was 
all about when the Civil War began. I have a dim 
recollection of being held up by Father or Mother 
at the curb to see long lines of soldiers marching 
down streets — probably Broadway and Fifth Ave- 
nue — ^with flags waving and bands playing and 
crowds cheering, and it all seemed very fine; but 
a little later, when Father himself decided to go 
to the front, the war took on a different aspect. He 
had a wife and four children (there were two 
sisters older than I and one younger) and might 
very well have been excused if he had stayed at 
home ; but many other family men were volunteer- 
ing, Father was intensely patriotic and had the 
Irishman’s love of a fight — and so he went. 

He left us somewhere about the first of the year 
1862, and was in service only a few months. He 
was wounded in the shoulder in the fighting near 
Washington — I think it must have been the Second 
Battle of Bull Run, or Chantilly — and after sev- 
eral weeks in a hospital was invalided home. He 
had not been at home long when he decided one 
day to brighten up the front of his shop a bit. He 
took a pot of dark green paint out on the sidewalk 
and began painting the window-casings — but after 
he had fiinished the woodwork, he proceeded to 
paint the glass, too. Then Mother remembered 
noticing certain other peculiarities in his conduct 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

in the past few days. Doctors told us that the wound 
in his shoulder had affected his brain. He grew 
worse rapidly, and the time came when we were 
in terror for our lives. Then they took him away 
to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and 
I never saw him again. 

There wasn’t even a ferry to the Island in those 
days. Officials, patients, everybody, had to be rowed 
across the East River — often rough it was, too — 
in skiffs. There was just a huddle of cheap wooden 
buildings on the Island, and like all other public 
works in New York City then, it was shot through 
and through with graft. Inmates were abused and 
neglected. Father had beenthereonly a few months 
when he was wandering around the grounds one 
day unwatched, and simply walked off the rocks 
into the river and was drowned. My mental pic- 
ture of him has grown rather dim in the more than 
sixfty Jyears that have passed since then, but I 
remember him as a rather good-looking man and 
a kindly father. 


10 



II 


We were having a hard time of it, of course, 
even before Father died. His months in the army 
on a thirteen-dollar salary had not improved our 
finances, and when he was taken away to the hos- 
pital we received no relief from the Government — 
nor did we after he died. Uncle Sam was too hard 
pressed in those days to think of pensions. Mother 
was compelled to work at whatever she could get — 
washing, sewing, nursing, what not. She was a 
smart, hapdsome woman of thirty-six, and I think 
could have married again if she liked, but she 
remained a widow until her death, nearly fifty 
years later. 

It was soon after Father’s death that there oc- 
curred one of the most vivid experiences of my 
boyhood. There was a great deal of disloyalty in 
New York, and it was known that some of the 
city officials shared in it to some extent. In fact, 
the Mayor, Fernando Wood, had suggested to the 
Common Council when the Civil War began in 
1861 that New York secede from the Union and 
set up as a free city. He even thought of taking in 
Staten and Long Islands and calling the new State, 

11 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


Tri-Insula. So when the Government decided on 
conscription in 1863, all the copperheads and 
slackers in the city began to talk of resisting it. 

I knew nothing of all this at the time, of course, 
and in fact, for long afterwards didn’t understand 
the meaning of the Draft Riots. But one hot, 
cloudy, muggy morning — ^it was Monday, the 13 th 
of July, by the way— the Draft Boards opened 
their sittings, and then the trouble began. It started 
at a draft headquarters away up on Third Avenue 
in the forties somewhere, and we didn’t hear much 
of it that first day, though there was some of the 
fiercest street fighting in history. Nearly the whole 
block where the Draft Board sat was burned; a 
colored orphan asylum was burned, stores were 
wrecked and looted and numerous people were 
killed and injured. 

That was the first of four days of the most terri- 
ble warfare that a big modern city ever saw. By 
the second day outbreaks were occurring nearer to 
our neighborhood, though none on our own street. 
I think it was on the third day that the rioters took 
possession of Ninth Avenue for ten or fifteen 
blocks just above us, cut down telegraph poles and 
trees, and with these and wagons and buggies 
barricaded all the cross streets, just like the Paris 
revolutionists used to do. All street cars and busses 
stopped running on the second day. No milk could 
12 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

be had, for the milkmen were afraid to come in 
from the country. A dock at Forty-second Street 
was burned, and most captains then moved thei'r 
ships (many California clippers among them) out 
into the middle of the rivers and anchored them, 
for fear they would be destroyed. No men ever 
fought more bravely than the city police did, and 
though they were greatly outnumbered, they did 
wonderful work. 

Mother, busy with her work here and there, 
forbade us to go out on the street. That might do 
for my sisters, but not for me. I was curious to see 
some of the trouble, but scared to death when any 
of it came near me. From a safe distance I watched 
several fights — heard the yelling and saw clubs 
swinging and bricks and stones flying; but as soon 
i^s any shooting began, I ducked around a comer. 
I had no love for a gun, haven’t yet, and never 
toted one in my life. 

Much of the fury of the mob was directed against 
Negroes. Scores of them were killed and their 
property destroyed. Not so very far from us, 
around Sullivan, Thompson, Grand and Broome 
Streets, there was a large colored settlement. That 
was there in later years M. Quad’s “Thompson 
Street Poker Club” was supposed to be located. 
Well, the Negroes in that district heard that they 
were going to be attacked, and they prepared to 

13 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

defend themselves on the roofs of their homes, 
laying in a big stock of stones and tearing down 
their chimneys to get bricks to throw at the mob. 
But for various reasons those blocks were never 
attacked. 

The rioters did kill some colored people in our 
vicinity, however. One day there was a tremendous 
uproar a few blocks below our house, and we heard 
that a man had been hanged. When the row had 
died down a bit, I ran down there with some other 
small boys and there, dangling high in air from a 
telegraph pole, was the body of a Negro — ^his 
clothing much torn and dusty, indicating how he 
had been maltreated before they hung him. The 
sight almost turned me sick, and yet it had a 
terrible fascination for me. I loitered about, staring 
at it, no doubt with popping eyes ; went away and 
came back again and again. I was there when the 
police cut the body down — saw it lying on the 
pavement with the dark face distorted and swollen 
from the choking and the July heat. Then a sudden 
revulsion overcame me and I ran home at top 
speed, scared and breathless. 

When the riots subsided on the evening of the 
fourth day, more than a thousand people had been 
killed and millions of dollars’ worth of property 
destroyed. 

My younger sister died soon after Father left 
14 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

us; there seemed no end to our troubles in those 
days. Not only were we saddened by our bereave- 
ments, but the problem of paying doctor’s bills and 
funeral expenses, and getting our living, too, was a 
serious one. My two older sisters and I did what 
we could to help. A friend of the family made for 
me a little box and fastened a strap to it and a 
cleat as a rest for shoe heels, and I started out as 
a bootblack. My range was all over lower Man- 
hattan and as far north as Twenty-third Street. 
For a while I would work in one district, then 
wander to another. I was always restless and long- 
ing for change. I may have had the honor of pol- 
ishing Boss Tweed’s boots in those days; there’s 
no telling. I knew none of the big men of the city. 

But all the time I was practicing dancing, sing- 
ing, grimacing and a little childish acrobatic work. 
Whenever I saw a man doing a dance on the street, 
in a saloon, anywhere, whether it was Negro, Irish, 
Spanish or Indian, I watched him closely and 
practiced the step afterward. I almost never had 
a chance to see even the smallest, crudest sort of a 
show; but I cherished the hope of some day seeing 
one, and what was still wilder, of being a part of 
onel I think I was born with the desire to be an 
actor. 

The saddest day of my life was that occasion 
while my father was in the insane hospital, when 

15 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

my mother’s sailor brother came to town, and, 
thinking to give the family a bit of diversion, in- 
vited us to accompany him to a circus which was 
holding forth up at Jones’s Woods. Unfortunately, 
I was in disgrace at the moment. I had broken some 
law or other, discipline was severe in those days, 
and as a punishment I was condemned to stay at 
home. I fancy the circus was only a little one- 
gallus affair, but it would have been the finest one 
I had ever seen, and to me at that moment it was 
the most important thing on earth. I can’t believe 
that Mother would have punished me so if she had 
realized what it meant to me. No other anguish in 
all my life has ever been quite so keen as that. I 
can feel the sting of it yet. I was fit for murder or 
suicide that day, and might have committed one 
or the other or both if I had thought of it. 

There was a saloon on Catherine Street, on the 
lower East Side, whose proprietor, a good-natured 
old Irishman, saw me dancing on the sidewalk one 
day and invited me in to entertain his patrons, who 
tossed me a few coins. I thus attracted the attention 
of a wandering fiddler named Huggins, who sug- 
gested that I throw in with him and earn a great 
deal of money by doing my song and dance stuff to 
his music. Did I accept? I couldn’t do it quick 
enough 1 1 threw away my blacking kit, and at the 
age of eight became an entertainer. 

16 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Huggins was a fat, lazy fellow with a good mu- 
sical ear and a clever knack with a violin. I think 
he had a fancy for the life of a vagabond. He and 
I ranged all over New York, with occasional visits 
to Brooklyn and Jersey City, doing our turn in 
saloons wherever they would permit us to do so, 
and sometimes in the streets if we could get a 
crowd-together. My leading song and for a long 
time my only one was supposed to be that of a littlei 
Negro boy, though I didn’t put on blackface 
makeup to do it. It started thus : 

I’m happy little Ned; 

I earn my daily bread 

By doing chores for white folks ’round this town. 

I was never known to shirk 

From any kind of work, 

At blacking boots there’s none can take me down. 

I would follow it up with my two or three dances. 
Sometimes we gathered quite a shower of coin, 
sometimes little. I never questioned Huggins’s sys- 
tem of dividing the profits with me. As I remem- 
ber it, I made but little more at this busking, as it 
was called then, than I did at boot-polishing; but 
no matter — I was happy in it. I was an actor at 
last; and that was a far more dignified profession 
than shining shoes — so far above it that it was not 
to be mentioned in the same breath. 


17 




Ill 


My career as a busker with my friend Huggins 
was cut short after I’d been at it about a year. One 
of my mother’s brothers who lived in Chicago had 
been urging her to come to that city, which was 
growing like magic, and where he thought it 
would be easier for all of us to make a living. He 
sent us railway tickets, and early in 1865 when the 
Civil War was drawing to a close, I embarked 
with my mother and sisters on one of my life’s 
great adventures — ^my first railroad journey. The 
track was rough and the seats were hard and cane- 
upholstered, but it was all perfect to me ; and after 
staring eagerly through the windows all day, I 
slept on one of those cane seats at night as if it had 
been eider-down. 

It took the better part of three days to go from 
New York to Chicago. Aside from the fact that 
Mother lost all our tickets en route, nothing un- 
usual happened on the journey. I don’t remember 
how she got out of the scrape, but I know we 
weren’t put off the train, and all arrived in Chi- 
cago, safe and sound. 

We hadn’t been in Chicago long when the war 

19 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ended, and a few days later President Lincoln was 
assassinated. Then came that long, strange rail- 
road funeral journey, when they took his body to 
Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Buffalo, 
Cleveland, Chicago and a few other places en 
route, stopping almost everywhere to let the people 
see him in his coffin. When he lay in state in the 
Court House in Chicago we — my uncle’s family 
and ours — ^were among the vast crowd that filed by 
his bier; most of the population of the city, it 
seemed, and many from outside. We had to stand 
in line a long time and I grew very tired and 
impatient ; but finally we got in. When we reached 
the coffin, my uncle lifted me slightly so that I 
could look in and see his face, by then sallow and 
shrunken. I was tremendously impressed, and al- 
though I was only nine, the memory has remained 
a vivid one to this day. 

Things didn’t seem to break much better for us 
in Chicago than in New York. Mother was able to 
get work part of the time, but we three kids had 
to work hard, too. My eldest sister, Catherine, was 
now approaching womanhood. I found no oppor- 
tunity to do any song and dance work “profession- 
ally” and so, much to my disgust, I was compelled 
to go back to shoe-shining again. 

I almost never had any opportunity to go to 
school in my boyhood. Once I went a few months 
20 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

to a night school when I was about twelve; I 
didn’t know then and I don’t know now whether it 
was operated by the city or not. It was there that 
I met Ben Collins, who also had theatrical am- 
bitions, and of whom I saw a great deal during the 
next fifteen or twenty years. His real name was Ben 
Condon. Ben was an eccentric genius a little older 
than I was, and had he lived longer and been able 
to let liquor alone, he might have left his mark 
rather high on Fame’s tablet. 

My teacher at the night school was a beautiful 
, and gracious lady who completely won my heart. 
It’s hard for a boy to guess at adult ages; she 
might have been anywhere from twenty-five to 
thirty-five. But how I adored her I I did not tell 
her how poor I was nor that I was a bootblack. 
But I was only one among many boys, and probably 
she gave me and my occupation very little thought, 
anyhow. One day I was down on my knees, polish- 
ing a man’s shoes on State Street when I happened 
to look up and there was my teacher just passing. 
I looked down again quickly, but she had recog- 
nized me and gave me a nod and smile as she went 
by. I felt my face burning with mortification. The 
incident made me unhappy for the rest of the day. 
It seemed to me that I could not bear to face her 
again after she had seen me at so humiliating a 
task — and so I never went back to the school. It 

21 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 


was a sad ordeal to give up sitting at the feet of 
my Goddess of Wisdom, but I never saw her again. 

I tried hard to find some other means of liveli- 
hood. It did not seem that I was ever going to 
reach the stage. Here I was, twelve years old and 
not started yet ! I must earn a great deal of money, 
so that I could make a more impressive appear- 
ance. I remember one Saturday morning when 
there had been a heavy snowfall, I started out 
early with a shovel borrowed (without his knowl- 
edge) from a janitor friend, and toiled for hours, 
clearing sidewalks, until I was worn to a frazzle. 
When I quit, I had earned a dollar and a half. I 
returned the shovel in the same quiet way I had 
gotten it, and planned to invest my capital in fifty 
Sunday newspapers — Times and Tribune. They 
would cost me three cents apiece and would sell 
for five, thus adding another dollar to my fortune. 

I was down at the newspaper office before day- 
break next morning. There was always a small- 
sized riot around the counters where the boys got 
their papers. I had worked my way up to the front 
of the press and was yelling for my papers, holding 
up my money to attract the man’s attention when a 
larger boy snatched the money out of my hand and 
turned to make away with it. Another boy of his 
age cried out, “Whaddya mean. Slim? Give de 
kid back his money!” Slim didn’t seem inclined to 
2 ? 






CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

do so, and the other fellow jumped him. For three 
or four minutes the uproar was multiplied ten 
times. Then newspaper employes succeeded in 
separating a few of the battlers, and Slim was com- 
pelled to disgorge my money. I never forgot that 
favor nor the champion who aided me. 

But frequently when I went into a speculation 
like this, I didn’t succeed in selling all my papers ; 
and then it cost so much live! Sometimes when my 
mother was away from home nursing, I lived at 
the Newsboys’ Home, where they gave us lodging 
and two meals for twenty-five cents a day. There 
was a sort of assembly room at the Home with a 
rostrum at one end, and there the boys sometimes 
put on little shows for their own amusement, in 
which of course I eagerly took part. I had no 
costume, and the only way I could achieve a comic 
effect was by turning my coat wrongside out. But 
I made quite a hit with my acrobatic dancing. I 
had learned to turn a pretty creditable handspring 
when I was only ten, and later on I added cart- 
wheels and other stunts which the boys thought 
were great. 

I seldom saw a real theatrical performance, even 
of the cheapest, but I heard parts of a great 
many — ^mostly minstrels, musical and vaudeville 
shows^ — ^while standing in alleys where the sound 
came through the windows, or lurking outside 

23 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

those concert halls or wine rooms which put on 
what we would call cabaret performances now — 
though that word hadn’t been heard of then. 

One of my favorite listening posts was in the 
alley alongside the theatre on Dearborn Street 
where lEmerson and 'Manning’s Minstrels held 
sway the year round. Billy Emerson was one of 
the great blackface singers and comedians of the 
Nineteenth Century, and his partner, Billy Man- 
ning, was not far behind him. The Negro minstrel 
show was far and away the most popular of all 
amusements for the masses, and even the elite 
patronized those of the better type and laughed as 
uproariously as anybody. 

There one might find some of the best tenor, 
baritone and bass voices in the country. There was 
comparatively little opera then, either of the grand 
or lighter variety, and no musical comedy as we 
know it now. Opera singing was apt to be a rather 
precarious means of livelihood ; and many of our 
best male singers therefore stuck to minstrelsy, 
which paid well and offered more regular work. 
For several years before the big fire Emerson and 
Manning’s theatre never closed. They merely 
changed the show a bit every month or so. They 
gave a show which was liked by everybody in 
Chicago, from society folk on down, and winter 
and summer, from New Year to New Year, they 
24 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

packed ’em in. I once had the pleasure of actually 
seeing their performance from a scat in the gallery, 
and it was one of the red-letter evenings of my 
boyhood. 


25 




IV 


I WAS fifteen when Chicago’s great calamity 
occurred. I seem to have been destined from the 
beginning to be mixed up in spectacular events and 
disasters. That was a strange and terrible autumn 
that we had in Chicago in 1871. We were all at 
home at the time. My eldest sister Catherine had 
been married, but her husband had died shortly 
afterwards, leaving her with a baby which was 
about eighteen months old at the time of the fire. 
Chicago was a wooden city then. I suppose that 
more than 99 percent of the residences were of 
wood, and a goodly part of the business buildings 
and factories. The bridges across the river were all 
of wood, and so were nearly all of the sidewalks. 
Even miles and miles of the streets had what was 
called “Nicholson” or wooden block pavement, 
though many other miles had no pavement at all. 

For nearly fifteen weeks we hadn’t had enough 
rain to lay the dust. The sprinkling wagons did 
their best, but we were choking with dust and 
gasping from heat from late June until October. 
The sun blazed and the hot winds blew off the 

27 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


prairies until the whole city was as dry and in- 
flammable as dry grass. 

We were living on Madison Street then, opposite 
Franklin, and just east of the south branch of the 
river. To those who are not familiar with Chicago, 
I will explain that the North and South branches 
of the Chicago River approach each other, running 
south and north almost parallel to the lake shore, 
unite scarcely a mile from the beach, and thence 
the main river runs directly eastward to the lake. 
The two branches thus cut off the West Side from 
the main part of the city and from what are known 
as the North Side and South Side. 

On Saturday evening, October 7th, there was a 
big fire along the west bank of the southern branch, 
just a few blocks below us. It burned over about 
six blocks of lumber yards, sawmills and other 
small factories and dwellings lying between Clin- 
ton Street and the river, and from Van Buren 
Street north to Adams, which was only about two 
blocks south of us, though across the stream. We 
watched it from the Madison Street bridge and it 
made such a big blaze that we grew a little uneasy 
even then, but the firemen finally quelled it. Had 
the wind been blowing as strong as it was on the 
following evening, the great disaster might have 
happened then and there. 

The next evening — Sunday — a high wind was 

28 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

blowing, a regular gale, from the southwest I 
turned in between nine and ten o’clock and was 
sound asleep immediately. Just about that time the 
bells were ringing for a fire down at De Koven and 
Jefferson Streets — ^west of the river again and still 
farther south than the blaze of the night before. 
That was a slum district down there, of the kind 
that used to be seen in America before our cities 
became so crowded — all wooden shacks (mostly 
one-story) jammed closely together, the dwellings 
rubbing elbows with stables, pig sties and hen- 
houses. The streets were unpaved and full of mud- 
holes. The inhabitants were mostly recent immi- 
grants, among them many Czechs and Slovaks, who 
were then rather a novelty in America. Goats, 
pigs, and chickens roamed at large, and you could 
even sec a flock of geese waddling down the street 
now and then or wading in a stagnant puddle, as 
if it had been a country lane. 

There’s no certainty as to how the fire began. 
It is said to have started in a stable, but whether 
Mrs. O’Leary’s (or Scully’s or Kelly’s — ^various 
names were used) cow was to blame is, I think, an 
open question. Anyhow, I slept peacefully all 
through the early part of it. But about midnight I 
was awakened by my Mother shaking me vigor- 
ously. She had to fairly haul me out of bed, for a 
fifteen-year-old boy in the middle of his night’s 

29 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


sleep is very nearly a dead one. But when she got 
it through my head that the fire was coming and 
I saw the red glow through the windows, I was on 
my feet in a hurry. 

Mother and the girls had known before ten 
o’clock by the glare in the sky that a big fire was 
raging south of us ; but it was on the other side of 
the river, and though the wind was bringing it 
northward, everybody thought — or at least, hoped 
— that the burned district of the night before 
would stop it. Still, Mother was a little uneasy, as 
the fire didn’t seem to grow less but rather in- 
creased; and she stayed up, watching it. Along 
towards midnight she learned that it had leaped 
across the river near Polk Street to a lumber yard 
on the east bank; and now it was rushing up our 
side of the stream before that terrible gale, spread- 
ing not only northward but eastward towards the 
lake. The firemen were powerless. 

Wagons and drays were already passing north- 
ward and westward, moving household goods and 
valuables from the vicinity of the fire. Mother was 
a strong-willed woman and she fought stubbornly 
against the suggestion that our own home might be 
burned. Nevertheless, she was negotiating with an 
old drayman who lived near us for the removal of 
our goods, if it became necessary. Little did she 
think how soon it would become necessary. Other 
30 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

people in the neighborhood were becoming badly 
frightened and were moving out. 

We debated what to do and finally Mother said 
to me, “Eddie, you take Bernard (the baby) and 
go up to Mr. Jackson’s till the fire’s over. If our 
own house don’t burn, come back here in the morn- 
ing. If it does, we’ll see you at Mr. Jackson’s.” 

The Jacksons were friends of ours who lived at 
the corner of Lake and Dearborn Streets, on the 
north edge of the business section and just south of 
the main Chicago River. Mother sent me up there 
because she thought that place would be perfectly 
safe; she thought she was providing for the secur- 
ity of the most valuable thing in the household — 
the baby. To reach the Jacksons’ place the fire 
would have to burn through the main business 
portion of the city, and it never occurred to her or 
to anyone else that that sort of thing could possibly 
happen. The firemen would undoubtedly find some 
way to stop it — and besides, most of the big down- 
town buildings were of brick and stone and iron, 
many of them claimed to be absolutely fireproof. 
They would doubtless stop the fire dead in its 
tracks; but they didn’t! Until that night, no one 
in America had had any conception of what a 
fire could do if given such ideal conditions as pre- 
vailed in Chicago. 

Catherine clung to the baby a bit anxiously as 

31 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


she kissed it good-bye, but neither she nor Mother 
were seriously worried over the separation. They 
had full confidence in me, because I had a knack 
for taking care of myself and had had a lot of 
experience at it Had they had any conception of 
what the history of that night would be, they never 
would have let me go. 

It was three blocks north and four east to Lake 
and Dearborn. I trudged northward on Franklin 
Street, carrying the baby and turning at every 
three or four steps to look back at the red sky. Pres- 
ently I could see the tips of the flames leaping into 
the air. The farther I went, the more badly I was 
scared. I had not yet reached Lake Street when I 
realized that the fire was coming faster than any 
of us had suspected. Why, it looked as if it might 
be almost to our house already. No such area of 
city, I believe, was ever burned over so quickly. 
It overwhelmed fire companies, destroyed their 
apparatus, perhaps killed some of their men and 
swept on, leaving the survivors behind. The flame 
ran along the plank sidewalks as if through prairie 
grass. In places even the wooden block pavement 
was burned. 

When I turned east on Lake and reached Wells 
Street, there were dozens of vehicles hurrying 
north towards the bridge across the main river, 
loaded with everything imaginable, but mostly 
32 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

furniture, bedding sand goods which merchants 
were trying to save from their stores. As I crossed 
Wells and La Salle Streets, I could look southward 
and see the fire coming — so near that I thought it 
must be among the big downtown buildings al- 
ready. The tumult around me was growing worse 
at every step. Some people along Lake Street were 
already moving their furniture out of their houses, 
and men were hurrying about, looking for wagons. 
When I reached the Jacksons’ home, they were 
moving out, too. 

“My God!” cried Mr. Jackson. “What are you 
doing here with that baby? Get across the river or 
down to the lake front, quick I We’re going to move 
across the river.” 

He and his family were so absorbed in their own 
troubles that they had no time to think of me. I 
stood about for several minutes, probably the worst 
scared and puzzled fifteen-year-old boy on record, 
I hated to separate myself from friends — ^that is, 
from people who had always been friendly before; 
but it was evident that they felt they couldn’t be 
bothered with me. The danger was increasing at 
every moment. The flames, blown horizontally by 
the wind, reached forward and with the lapse of 
only a few moments caught building after building 
in their path. Meanwhile sparks and bits of flaming 
wood were carried far ahead by the wind and 

33 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Started new fires. Several square miles of Chicago 
were burning simultaneously that night. 

I might have begged to be allowed to take the 
baby across the river on the Jacksons’ load of 
household goods; but though they were stacking 
their furniture on the sidewalk, Jackson had not 
yet found a wagon, and there was no certainty that 
he would find one. It was pretty clear that if the 
baby was saved, I would have to do it unassisted. 
So I finally turned away and hurried east on Lake 
Street, thinking to cross the river either at the State 
or Rush Street bridge, or else to reach the lake 
shore. But at State Street the turmoil was terrible. 
The river bridges were narrow — not half the 
width of the streets — and this one had gotten 
jammed with a tangle of wagons and drays, with 
people on foot swarming and struggling around 
them, cursing, screaming, crying and fighting. I 
dared not venture into that mob with the baby — so 
I kept on eastward. I had now decided to go to the 
lake. 

Every street that I crossed was so thronged with 
vehicles — and all lashing ahead at a trot or a 
gallop, the drivers utterly reckless of people on 
foot — that I risked both our lives at every crossing. 
Men with pocketbooks or bunches of money in 
their hands were begging for wagons — offering 
twenty-five, fifty, a hundred dollars a load to any 
34 



clowning through life 

one who would haul it. Many wagoners were de- 
manding outrageous prices ; some desperate people 
were seizing vehicles by force. 

The sidewalks were becoming almost as danger- 
ous as the streets. People crazed by fear, excite- 
ment, or liquor ran wildly to and fro, some stagger- 
ing under loads of plunder or their own worldly 
goods. Trying to shield the baby, I was knocked 
this way and that, and once went down to my 
knees, but got up again quickly. Looters were 
smashing the doors and windows of stores and 
making away with whatever they could carry. 
Others had scuttled the saloons and were uproari- 
ously drunk. Roughs and lewd women yelled, 
howled, cursed, laughed idiotically, danced and 
sometimes fell down helpless in the streets, to be 
run over or lie there until the fire overtook them. 

The destroyer was now so close that I fancied I 
could hear its roar above all of the other din. Its 
glare was already lighting up the riverside streets. 
Sparks and burning embers were flying across the 
heavens and falling in showers around us; I was 
continually afraid some of them would set the 
baby’s clothes afire or burn his face. I pulled a flap 
of his cloak well up over his head to protect him. 
The poor kid was squalling at the top of his voice 
from terror — it was seldom that I could hear him 
in the uproar around me, but I knew he was crying 

35 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


because his mouth was wide open and his eyes shut. 
He was getting terribly heavy, too, but thank good- 
ness, I was nearing Michigan Avenue and the lake 
front. My own home must be gone by now, I 
thought. What had become of my mother and 
sisters? And if they were still alive, what would 
they think had become of Bernard and me? How 
would we ever find each other again? 

As I reached Michigan Avenue I saw— it may 
seem incredible, but it’s true — great sections of 
shingles and weatherboarding from the roofs and 
sides of houses, all ablaze, flying through the air 
above me in the gale. A wagonload of household 
goods passed in full gallop towards the Rush Street 
bridge, the driver lashing his horses, all unaware 
that his load, fired by a spark, was blazing merrily 
behind him. Watching my chance, I dived across 
the Avenue with a group of grown people, through 
the throng of galloping horses and wagons, and 
at last was on the lake shore. There was a place 
there, just south of the mouth of the river, where 
the beach was much wider than elsewhere. The 
Illinois Central Railroad had a depot there and 
several tracks, and there were two grain eleva- 
tors — all widely scattered — but little else. North 
and South of us the beach was much narrower, and 
there many people were driven by the heat far out 
into the water, and some were drowned. 

36 



V 


Merchants near the lake front and men help- 
ing them were carrying goods out on that vacant 
tract — bolts upon bolts of silk, woolen and linen 
cloth, and even some cotton; men’s ready-made 
clothing, women’s cloaks, furs and millinery (there 
were no other Women’s ready-to-wear things then) , 
jewelry and silverware, tobacconists’ goods, even a 
few groceries. It’s funny now to recall how some 
of the people who got out there first were resentful 
at the crowds who came later and at the merchants 
for filling up the space with their goods. It was an 
imposition, they thought; those late-comers and 
storekeepers should have gone somewhere else. 
There was much confusion, excitement and terror 
on that little patch of ground, but not much thiev- 
ery or robbery, I think; at least, I didn’t hear of 
any. 

There we sat and watched the fire march by. 
When it was at its nearest point, just opposite us, 
the heat was so great that we had to retreat out to 
the farther edge of our plot, and some waded into 
the water or were pushed in, but did not stay there 
long. A grain elevator which stood near us, iso- 



t H R O U G H 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


lated from other buildings, was not touched. The 
wind was blowing the blazing embers almost 
straight northward now, and few of them fell 
among us. Before sunrise the flames had crossed 
the river. Many citizens of the North Side had 
come down to the river to see the fire in the main 
city, and suddenly discovered to their horror that 
the water-works and other buildings were burning, 
nearly a mile behind them. The fire-fiend spent 
Monday in cleaning up the North Side, and only 
stopped at Lincoln Park, well along towards eve- 
ning. 

Somewhere about dawn or time for dawn I went 
to sleep with my head pillowed on a bolt of cloth, 
while Bernard slumbered beside me, lying on a 
pile of Men’s Fine $10 Suits. The people around 
me, learning my story, were very kind. In fact, 
some of the things I remember best about the great 
fire are the wonderful fellowship, sympathy, and 
kindness which it brought forth from rich and 
poor both in and out of Chicago. I have never seen 
such helpfulness and self-sacrifice, such team work 
for the benefit of others as then — though I suppose 
the same is true at the time of nearly all great 
disasters. 

I must have slept for two or three hours. When 
I awoke, it was supposed to be well along in the 
forenoon ; but it was like a very cloudy forenoon, 
3S 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

indeed. Such a pall of smoke was hanging over us 
that the sun could only be seen dimly, a sort of dull 
red ball, through it. Piles of ruins were still blaz- 
ing and smoking in all directions. 

A woman who had brought a full bottle of milk 
for her baby gave half of it to Bernard, and some- 
body else gave me a little bread and meat. With 
that snack we had to get along until late in the 
day. The hours dragged by until about the middle 
of the afternoon, when some people began to drift 
southward on Michigan Avenue, hoping to reach 
friends or relatives. Nobody tried to go north, for 
the bridges across the river were gone, the boats 
were burned and the whole North Side was a 
dreary waste and much of it still burning. 

It was reported that the South Side had been 
spared, and I decided to go around that way, cross 
the river and come up on the West bank as nearly 
as possible to where my home had been. I was 
somewhat stunned by the disaster — a bit like shell 
shock, I suppose. I wanted to learn the fate of my 
mother and sisters — to find somebody to share with 
me the terrible responsibility of the baby; but if 
I had found them dead, I wouldn’t have been 
much more dazed and shocked than I was already. 

Of course it was impossible to cross the business 
section yet. Even some of the frame structures were 
still glowing; and great piles of red hot brick, stone, 

39 



THROUGH 


LIES 


CLOWNING 


marble and iron, where the new Pacific Hotel, the 
Sherman House, the Palmer House, the Tribune 
Building, the Court House, the Chamber of Com- 
merce, the Tremont House, the Bigelow House 
and all the other big downtown buildings had been 
were still spouting flame. So I went south on Mich- 
igan Avenue, even then compelled to keep on its 
outer edge near the lake because of the heat. I 
saw at least two dead men by the way, and certain 
masses that looked like burned rags might have 
been others. 

Congress Street was the southern limit of the 
fire on the lake front. From there its southern 
boundary ran in a diagonal line southwest to the 
beginning at De Koven and Jefferson. I zigzagged 
along the edge of the burned district, seeing thou- 
sands of others wandering like myself, hordes of 
curious sightseers and many wagons still hauling 
those pitiful loads of household goods which per- 
haps hadn’t yet found a resting place. A slow rain 
had begun to fall — too late to save the city— and 
it added to the discomfort of Bernard and me. I 
was very much afraid he would catch cold, so I 
wrapped my coat around him. I was very tired and 
ravenously hungry, and of course he was, too. He 
cried almost incessantly. 

I learned by questioning people on the way that 
our home neighborhood had certainly been burned 
40 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

over. How in the world would I ever learn the fate 
of Mother and my sisters? My opinion was that if 
they had been hard pressed by the fire, they would 
be most apt to dash right across the river by the 
Madison Street bridge, and would therefore be 
likely to be somewhere on the West Side. Of course 
it was impracticable to reach any of the bridges 
at Madison, Van Buren, or Taylor Streets; one 
man even told me that the Twelfth Street bridge 
was gone — a false report — and so I walked six 
blocks more out of my way to reach the one at 
Eighteenth Street. By that time I was getting 
pretty well fagged out. 

Having crossed the river, I turned northward on 
the west side, but I realized that I couldn’t go 
much farther. I had stopped several times under 
porches and awnings and set the baby down to rest 
myself, but my arms felt as if they were nearly 
paralyzed and my back was getting weak. I was 
soaking wet from the rain which still continued to 
fall slowly, and I was afraid Bernard might be ill 
from the exposure. 

I had noticed on the way that the churches were 
headquarters for refugees, and I decided to stop at 
the next one I saw. I had walked somewhere be- 
tween four and five miles, I suppose, when I came 
to a big church where the lamps were lighted and 
many people were going in and out. I staggered 



CLOWNING ft H R O U G H LITE 

into the portico and sank down on the steps, ex- 
hausted. 

Kind women gathered around me immediately, 
took Bernard out of my arms and led me inside to a 
big, roaring stove, where I dried myself and grew 
drowsy. I do not know how many people were 
being sheltered in the church, but there were 
scores, perhaps hundreds of them. Again I say 
that the God in men and women comes out strong- 
est at such a time as that. The good Christians in 
that church — most of whose homes had been spared 
by the fire, but many of whom had lost their busi- 
nesses — ^were working their heads off and giving 
all that they could spare and more, too, to aid the 
sufferers. Bernard was cuddled and given a bottle 
of milk and I was given a , good supper — all I 
could eat. I fell asleep before I had finished it. 
They laid me on a cushioned church bench and I 
slept like the dead for twelve hours. 

When I awoke next morning I could smell hot 
coffee and see stacks of ham sandwiches on a 
bench near by, and physically I felt like a new 
man already; but my first thought upon awaking 
was one of worry for Mother and the girls. After 
eating breakfast I suggested to one of the women 
that they take care of -Bernard while I went to 
seek my family in our old neighborhood. 

“No, you stay right here,” she commanded. 
42 






CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“We’ll try to do that for you. Your folks probably 
aren’t anywhere near your old home, and you’d 
never find them by wandering around.” She then 
went on to explain that the citizens were already 
beginning to organize a sort of identification ser- 
vice in an effort to get families together and find 
out how many lives had been lost. They took my 
name and my mother’s and our home address, and 
cautioned me not to stray far from the church, as 
they might have news for me at any time. 

All day I waited and worried, and when I lay 
down to sleep at night, we had heard nothing. Mes- 
sengers were bustling in and out all day and the 
volunteer workers were busier than bees, but to 
some of the refugees who had nothing to do, the 
time dragged frightfully. Several others beside 
myself were clamoring for news and some were 
kicking on the accommodations and service that 
were being given them, and by nightfall the good 
souls who were doing the work were nearly dis- 
tracted. 

But early in the following forenoon a man with 
a paper in his hand came towards me and said, 
“Is this Eddie Fitzgerald?” 

“Yes, sir,” said I. 

“Your mother and sisters arc at the Scammon 
School,” said he. “Corner Madison and Halstead.” 

It was only about thirty-six hours after the halt- 

43 



c L O.W N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

ing of the fire. As I look back on it and remember 
the chaos that followed the disaster, it seems mar- 
velous to me that they found my people as quickly 
as they did. When you consider that they had no 
telephones then, and all news and instructions had 
to be carried by messenger, you must admit that 
for personal efficiency the Twentieth Century had 
nothing on those citizens of Chicago in VI. 

A place was made for the baby and me on a 
wagon, and I rode up to the Scammon School. I 
found a number of tents set up in the yard, and 
learned that Mother and the girls were being shel- 
tered in one of them. Supposing that they had 
heard news of me, I burst in on them without warn- 
ing and gave them the shock of their lives. They 
were all very close to prostration already, and 
Catherine came near fainting. Then we kissed each 
other all around and all wept in chorus, myself as 
freely as anybody — all, that is, save Bernard who, 
well fed and glad to be in the family circle again, 
very sensibly laughed. 

I learned from the three that the fire had stolen 
upon them much more rapidly than they had ex- 
pected. They did not leave the house until the last 
minute ; and by that time they were so hard pressed 
that they could do nothing but flee across the Mad- 
ison Street bridge, which was only a few yards 
away. Meanwhile, the old drayman had promised 
44 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

SO many other neighbors to help them out that he 
had room for only a little of Mother’s stuff; and 
in the final hurly-burly the only things they saved 
were an old sofa and a feather bed. They dashed 
across the bridge barely a half second before it 
was swung open; men were already pushing 
against the long wooden sweep (all the river 
bridges were swung by hand) to open it and thus 
prevent its being burned and carrying the fire 
across to the West Side. 

Mother said they comforted themselves with the 
thought that if the fire approached Mr. Jackson’s 
place, I would just step across one of the bridges 
to the North Side. When they learned on Monday 
that the North Side had been devastated too, their 
hearts sank, and they had almost made up their 
minds that they would never again see Bernard or 
me alive. 


45 




VI 


James Fisk, Jr., the famous (or should I say 
notorious?) Wall Street plunger and railroad 
manipulator of Reconstruction days, was a queer 
mixture of good and bad. Utterly ruthless in his 
business dealings with other financiers, there isn’t 
the slightest doubt that he had a remarkably kind 
heart and great sympathy for human beings in dis- 
tress. His benefactions were not all given just to 
win favor and wheedle the public into forgiving 
his shady finance, either; he conferred a great 
many secretly and got no public credit for them 
whatsoever. 

At the time of the Chicago fire he and Jay 
Gould were in control of the Erie Railroad. The 
flames had not yet gone out when he waS urging 
the people of the East to contribute flour^ meat 
and other foods, also clothing and anything else 
suitable to the sufferers from the disaster, and he 
agreed to carry it all to Chicago on his railroad 
free of charge. Within the next few days tons of 
stuff came to Chicago through his agency, not only 
from the East but from numerous other towns 
along the line of the Erie, and helped much to 

47 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


relieve the distress. Of course other parts of the 
country contributed, too, even to the Pacific Coast 
■ — ^why, the nearby districts sent cooked fowls, 
buttered bread, sandwiches and cooked vegetables 
all ready to eat; but I’m speaking now particularly 
of the benefactions of Fisk. 

He also announced that any fire sufferer who 
wished to go to New York or any other point on 
the Erie to begin life anew would be given a pass. 
At that time there was a pretty widespread belief 
that Chicago was ruined. Many of the most hope- 
ful both in and out of Chicago predicted that at 
least it would take several years for her to recover 
from the shock. My mother was among the pessi- 
mistic ones, and I’ll admit that to me, too, Chicago 
looked pretty much like a hopeless case. So Mother 
thought we’d better take advantage of Colonel 
Fisk’s offer and go back to New York. And back 
we went. We took lodgings in Cherry Street, and 
because of our being fire sufferers, some of our 
friends and neighbors promoted a benefit festival 
for us which netted twenty-one dollars. 

But somehow, times seemed hard in New York 
that winter, and we could get little to do. The only 
work that could be done by women and boys at 
that period brought little more than starvation 
wages, and there didn’t seem to be much of it to 
be had in New York, either. But it’s a rather signi- 
48 



clowning through life 

Scant thing that no matter how desperately poor 
a family might be, boys who had been brought up 
even no more than half-way decently never thought 
of going out with pistols and sticking up jewelry 
stores and paymasters, as boys of fifteen, sixteen, 
and seventeen are doing today — and frequently 
committing murder into the bargain. There was 
something different in the atmosphere then — call it 
Puritanism or Victorianism, if you like. Poor peo- 
ple seemed to take more pride in their good name. 
Today there are community houses, free clinics, 
free vocational schools, free libraries and reading 
rooms, the Salvation Army and fifty-seven other 
varieties of charitable and benevolent services, 
almost none of which we had fifty-five to sixty 
years ago, and all calculated to make it easier for 
poor people to stay honest — but the system doesn’t 
seem to work as well as it ought. There’s a diflFerent 
element in the atmosphere of America today. 

Meanwhile we were hearing accounts daily of 
how rapidly Chicago was rising from her ashes — 
erecting far bigger and finer buildings than before 
the fire — the new Chicago was going to make the 
old look like a backwoods village! You’d think to 
hear the talk that came from there that the fire 
had been the greatest blessing that ever happened 
to the city. 

Of course all this caused much remorse in our 

49 



c L O W 1 N G THROUGH LIFE 

family, and we were soon bemoaning our bad 
judgment in having left Chicago. I was particular- 
ly anxious to get back, for I had learned to like the 
town and had some good friends there, whereas 
New York had become strange to me; life changes 
rapidly for a youngster between the years of nine 
and fifteen. 

But how to get back! We couldn’t afford the 
money for the tickets, and Mother’s brother, never 
very well-to-do, was far less prosperous now than 
he had been in 1865. Mother knew his circum- 
stances and never thought of asking him for help. 

But what about Colonel Fisk? He was the Good 
Samaritan of New York and he owned a railroad 
to Chicago — that is, he and Gould owned it ; and 
Gould, though he never got any credit for it, never 
seemed to object when Fisk used the road for 
benevolent purposes, which of course cost him as 
much as they did Fisk. That little credit for Jay 
Gould shouldn’t be forgotten. 

Jim Fisk, however, was the man to whom every- 
one appealed. As we used to sing after his death : 

“He may have 3one wrong, but he thought he done right. 
And he always was good to the poor.” 

He called the police captain of his district into his 
office one day and said, “Captain, I know that 
there must be many widows and orphans that you 
50 



clowning through life 

know about in your precinct who need help in one 
way and another. If you’ll make a note of ’em 
when they come to your attention, I’ll give ’em a 
ton of coal or a barrel of flour, whichever they need 
most.” He paused a moment. “Yes, damn it!” he 
went on, “I’ll give ’em the coal and the flour both, 
if they’re very poor. Just send me the orders. But 
I don’t want any publicity about this. You must 
keep it absolutely secret.” And then as the officer 
was going out, he called after him, “And by the 
way. Captain, if there are any worthy people who 
want to emigrate west and haven’t the money for 
railroad fare. I’ll give ’em passes.” 

It seemed quite the ordinary and logical thing to 
ask Colonel Fisk for passes back to Chicago. We 
didn’t regard that as charity. Poor as we were, we 
never asked for charity in our lives. But a railroad 
pass in those days was something different. It was 
just a small favor which was being handed out by 
the thousand. It seemed to me that about a third 
of the people who travelled then rode on passes; 
not only railroad employes, legislators, Govern- 
ment employes, and many preachers, but thousands 
of people for whom you could figure out no excuse 
whatsoever. The railroads were new toys, most of 
them were making money hand over fist, and they 
hadn’t yet figured out all this dope about cost per 
mile per passenger. Not only did railroad officials 

51 



QZOWNIN'G THROUGH LIRE 


give passes to their friends, but employes such as 
conductors and engineers would write on a card, 
“Pass So-and-so,” sign their names and give the 
cards to friends or kinsmen who wanted to go 
somewhere, and every conductor on their line 
would honor them. The railroad companies for- 
bade this, of course, but it went on just the same. 

So when Mother decided to ask Colonel Fisk 
for passes, she just sent me around to his office as 
she would have sent me to the corner drug store to 
ask for a copy of the latest Hostetter’s Almanac. 
The offices of Gould and Fisk were in the Grand 
Opera House building — still standing, by the w^y, 
at the corner of Twenty-third Street and Eighth 
Avenue. They had bought the building several 
years before, remodelled it and at Fisk’s desire had 
built the theatre into it, where for a long time he 
put on Offenbach’s operas in rather magnificent 
style. There President Grant was unwise enough 
to accept a box from the partners one evening soon 
after his inauguration, and in conversation with 
him that night Gould got the idea which led to the 
Black Friday of 1869, when he and Fisk were liter- 
ally besieged in their offices, and surrounded the 
building with armed sluggers and gunmen to pro- 
tect themselves. 

Their offices on the second floor of the building 
were fitted up with all the magnificence of which 
52 




Billy Emerson, the Famous Minstrel, 

Jim Fisk and His $1,000 Overcoat 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

that age was capable — ^marble aad onyx and wal- 
nut, with much gilt plaster rococo work and thick- 
piled carpets in brilliant colors. I made my request 
known to a man in the outer office and he said he 
would send for Mr. Fisk’s manager. Jay Gould 
had been pointed out to me on another occasion 
that winter, and while I was waiting, Fisk passed 
through the office — a chubby, florid man with 
bright blue eyes and reddish-brown hair and mus- 
tache. I recall very distinctly his high-pitched 
voice and Yankee twang. 

Presently the manager came out and questioned 
me, but evidently didn’t like to take action on the 
word of a fifteen-year old boy, so he told me to 
come back and bring my mother. Mother and I 
went up next morning, and after a short interview 
he told us that he thought the matter could be 
arranged; and that if so we would be able to get 
the passes on the following Monday. 

That was Friday, January Sth, 1872. Fisk had 
for some time been at feud with another big stock- 
market operator named Edward Stokes. There 
were at least two reasons for their bad blood ; one, 
an actress named Josie Mansfield whom they both 
wanted, the other, a group of oil refineries on Long 
Island. Fisk accused Stokes of fraud in the oil 
matter and on Saturday, the following day after our 
call. Stokes learned that the other had had a bench 

53 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

warrant issued for his arrest. He was furious. He 
put a pistol in his pocket at once, and went out 
seeking his enemy. Late in the afternoon he heard 
that Fisk was going to the Grand Central Hotel, 
on Broadway between Third and Bleecker Streets; 
it is still standing and in use as a hotel, though they 
call it the Broadway Central now. Fisk entered the 
lobby about six o’clock, and started up the broad 
stairway to the second floor. There Stokes met him 
and shot him through the abdomen. He lived only 
a few hours. 

That murder was one of the greatest sensations 
of the “flash period” of America which followed 
the Civil War. People all over the country were 
talking about it and eagerly devouring the columns 
of gossip in the newspapers. But nowhere did it 
create a more tremendous sensation than in our 
household. We looked at each other in consterna- 
tion when we heard the news on Sunday. “We’ll 
never get those passes now,” said one of us. 

Nevertheless, Mother said she would make the 
attempt, and so on Monday morning she and I 
went up to the Grand Opera House. We more than 
half expected to find the building closed. But the 
doors were unlocked, though there were few peo- 
ple about and evidently no business was being done. 
We found a man in the outer office who looked at 
54 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

US in astonishment and disapproval when we tim- 
idly stated our errand. 

“I’m sorry to trouble ye at such a time as this,” 
said Mother. “I know that Mr. Fisk — God rest his 
soul ! — is dead, but we need those passes very much, 
and I thought that maybe he might have arranged 
it — ^before he ” 

The man said he would see, and went away. He 
was gone a long time and our spirits sank very low. 
But finally he came back and he had an envelope 
in his hand — our passes 1 Fisk had approved them 
on Saturday; he never hesitated long over benefi- 
cence. 


55 




VII 


We were back in Chicago again and I was 
happy, for there were two or three friends there 
(Ben Collins, my old night-school chum, was one) 
who had ambitions similar to mine, and it was 
possible that I might yet form a song-and-dance 
partnership with one of them which would take 
the country by storm. 

Soon after we returned to Chicago Mother was 
employed as a sort of nurse, guard, and companion 
to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln had 
always been a woman of rather unusual disposition, 
and it will be remembered that she had had some 
spells of “temperament” even while she was in the 
White House. After her husband’s assassination 
she fell into deep melancholy, and after her son 
Tad died in Chicago in 1871 (the third son she had 
lost) she suffered from periods of mild insanity. 

She had many strange delusions at these times. 
She thought gas was an invention of the devil, and 
would have nothing but candles in her room. At 
other times she insisted on the shades being drawn 
and the room kept perfectly dark. Mother was 
with her at Springfield most of the time, but made 

57 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


C L O w: N 1 N G 


one or two southern trips with her in winter. The 
position was a trying one, and Mother gave it up 
twice, but each time the kinsmen induced her to 
come back after she had had a short rest. She re- 
mained with Mrs. Lincoln until that lady, towards 
the close of her life, became so much unbalanced 
that the family decided it was best to place her in 
a private sanatorium. Mrs. Lincoln died in 1882. 

I was sixteen when a very momentous event took 
place in my life. I changed my name! Always try- 
ing to break into the show business at some crevice 
or other, I teamed up with one of my chums, a 
youth named Jack Finnegan, a year or two older 
than I was, to do acrobatic song-and-dance stuff. 
Finnegan’s father was janitor of a building which 
belonged to Phil D. Armour, the big packer. I 
used sometimes to help Mr. Finnegan with his 
work, and when my mother was away I slept 
many a night in the attic of the bujlding where he 
was employed. Jack’s mother was dead, and his 
father kept him supplied with a meal ticket at a 
certain restaurant, where he and I used to go 
nearly every day to eat our favorite dish, liver and 
bacon. I shudder to think of the quantities of 
liver and bacon I ate in those days. We used to 
practice what we fondly called our “act” by the 
hour at certain quiet places down on the lake shore, 
where falls wouldn’t hurt us. Jack was a better 
58 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

acrobat than I at that time, and I thought myself 
lucky to hook up with him. 

Our two names, Finnegan and Fitzgerald, 
coupled together on a program didn’t suit my 
partner. He said it sounded too Irish. I questioned 
whether anything could be too Irish, hut he over- 
ruled me. He had decided to take the name of 
Edwards. I pondered long over my stage moniker. 
There were two girls, the Foy sisters, working in 
the concert halls then (they afterwards became 
very famous in vaudeville) whom I admired very 
much, and I could think of nothing better than 
their name. It was short and seemed to me to have 
a picturesque quirk about it that made it easy to 
remember. So our team became Edwards and Foy, 
and I have been Eddie Foy ever since. 

It was a long time between engagements for us. 
There were very few theatres in the country then 
which put on anything like a vaudeville show, and 
of course kids such as we were had very little hope 
of breaking into such places. As for getting into 
anything like the “legitimate,” there wasn’t one 
chance in ten thousand for an uneducated boy with 
no influential friends and no background save that 
of poverty and the streets and beer halls. There 
were few legitimate theatres, and they only in tjhie 
larger cities. We’re coming back towards the same 
condition today, but there is a new reason for it 

59 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

now; the movies have driven the more expensive 
spoken play out of the smaller places. In my boy- 
hood days the smaller cities and towns had little 
or no amusement save of the cheapest sort and that 
sometimes at long intervals. Most of the great stars 
carried no company or almost none with them on 
the road, but in the few large cities where they 
played were supported by the more or less perma- 
nent local stock company, which was usually very 
low-salaried, and so small that one actor frequently 
had to play two or three parts in an evening and 
many lines had to be cut out for this reason. 

The only hope for young aspirants like Finnegan 
and myself lay in what were later called “honky- 
tonks” — the “beer halls” or “wine rooms” of those 
days, which put on an olio of stuff, good, bad, and 
indifferent, as an attraction to their customers — 
the same idea as that of the cabaret of today. As 
these places rose a little higher in the scale and put 
on a better program, they called themselves “con- 
cert halls” and charged more for their drinks. It 
may sound to some folks like a pretty low sort of 
business, but let me tell you, there was many a 
struggling chap like myself who started in, those 
places because he couldn’t get in anywhere else, 
and who later made his mark in the real theatre in 
one line or another. Such men and women as J. K. 
(Fritz) Emmett, Joe Murphy, W. J. Scanlon, 
60 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Chauncey Olcott, Sol Smith Russell, Harrigan and 
Hart, Barry and Fay, George S. Knight, Lotta 
Crabtree and dozens of others whom I might name 
did some of their first work in the old honkytonks. 
And furthermore, remember that no matter what 
the character of the patrons of such a place might 
be, the actors need not be of the same stripe. I 
knew girls who sang in such places who brought 
their mothers with them every night and who were 
as correct in their demeanor as any church chor- 
ister. 

Finnegan and I sometimes went to outlying 
towns, like Joliet, Elgin, or Milwaukee, possibly 
on “a more or less definite engagement, but more 
often on a mere tip that we might get work there 
or even just as a gamble. We could seldom afford 
transportation money, so we would crawl into a 
freight car or the trucks under it, carrying our 
costumes wrapped up in newspaper, and get 
through that way if we could. If we were thrown 
off, as not infrequently happened, we finished the 
journey on foot, unless we could get a lift on a 
wagon. And then we sometimes made only two or 
three dollars on the trip, or perhaps nothing at all. 

At the corner of Van Buren and Clark Streets in 
Chicago in the Seventies there was a big beer hall 
called the Cosmopolitan which put on a rather 
better vaudeville program than such places usually 

61 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


did, and Finnegan and I finally got a week’s en- 
gagement there. It was a big boost for us, and we 
prepared to do our best. 'W^e expected thereafter to 
advertise ourselves as “direct from a week at the 
Cosmopolitan.” Our remuneration was to be a 
dollar apiece per night. 

‘ We ran into professional jealousy as soon as we 
struck the place. Certain regulars who had been 
performing there for some time looked on us with 
considerable of a grouch. We heard mutterings 
about kids who weren’t dry behind the ears yet, and 
raw amateurs coming in there and taking the bread 
out of honest workingmen’s mouths, but we heeded 
not. We regarded ourselves as honest workingmen, 
too, and goodness knows, we needed bread to ac- 
company our liver and bacon as much as anybody 
did. But the other actors had plenty of friends 
among the patrons, and they were prepared to 
make life uneasy for us if they had half an excuse. 

The Cosmopolitan was a large place of its kind. 
It had a stage at one end of the hall and a little 
corner screened off alongside it which was mostly 
cut up into dressing rooms. There we nervously 
awaited our turn. 

Finally the team of Edwards and Foy were 
called, and we bounded on to the stage, all togged 
out in our jackets and knee trousers of red-and- 
whitc striped bed-ticking, to face some cold stares 
62 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


and low murmurs of hostility. We had a song of 
which the chorus ran : 

Blue eyes and golden hair — 

{Five dance steps and a somersault) 

No other maid so fair — 

{Five more steps and another flip-flop) 

In a brownstone front on Broadway 
Or a cottage at Cape May, 

If you want to win a pretty girl 
Those are the cards to play. 


— and then some more dancing and acrobatic stuff. 
Don’t ask me what relation the somersaults bore 
to the sentiment in our chorus. We had to put them 
in somewhere, didn’t we? And when you come 
right down to brass tacks, that act of ours wasn’t 
any worse than what some of the vaudevillians 
have been doing ever since. 

Well, we got through our first verse and chorus 
in fine style until we came to the second flip-flop. 
I was still in the air when I heard a low, dull 
“wham” at my left. Finnegan-Edwards, usually a 
sure performer, had slipped somehow in his take- 
off and flopped full-length on the stage like a bag 
of salt. The shock fame near wrecking my own 
leap, but I managed to come down right side up. 

Maybe that crowd didn’t give us the razzl The 
pals of the other actors did everything but tear the 

63 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

roof off. “Put ’em outl” “Git some actors!” “Git 
somebody that can stand up 1” were a few of the 
milder criticisms. We got through our second 
stanza without any more disaster but amid con- 
siderable disorder, and then hurried off. Now, the 
dramatic manager at the Cosmopolitan was a fel- 
low named Thompson — a thoroughly hard-boiled 
guy, who would just as soon wallop an actor in the 
jaw as not, and frequently did it. He met us with a 
volley of abuse and cuss- words; we were fakers, 
misfits, club-footed half-wits, we’d gotten in there 
under false pretenses. Finnegan suddenly inter- 
rupted him. 

“Where can we wash up?” he demanded; for we 
had as yet seen no sign of a lavatory or wash-bowl. 

“Didja bring your own soap?” sneered Thomp- 
son. 

I saw a dangerous look dawning in Finnegan’s 
eye. I knew that like Cousin Egbert, he could be 
pushed just so far. He was a big, beefy chap and no 
slouch of a scrapper himself. 

“For Heaven’s sake, don’t start anything, Jack,” 
I begged him aside. “This fellow’s a bad egg.” 

But Thompson made just one more nasty crack, 
and then Jack hit him. At that, I sank down in 
despair on the steps leading up to the stage, and 
tears flowed down my cheeks. After all our strug- 
gles, when we had finally succeeded in landing a 
64 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

good engagement, here we had flopped on the very- 
first night, and now my partner was licking the 
manager. Yes, he was really doing it! My career 
seemed once more to have been nipped in the bud. 
I was ruined! But these gloomy thoughts had 
scarcely passed once through my mind when I 
discovered to my intense astonishment that the fight 
was over, and that Thompson was shaking hands 
with Finnegan and telling him we were all right 
and he hoped we’d stay with him. 

Meanwhile, a very attractive little girl of four- 
teen, Rose Howland, the younger of the two How- 
land ^Sisters who were doing a turn at the place, 
began to berate Thompson for his treatment of us, 
and of me in particular. 

‘‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mr. 
Thompson!” she raged, “Abusing that child that 
way. Just see how he’s crying! Why don’t you let 
them wash up? Don’t cry, little boy,” she said to 
me; “I’ll give you some soap if he don’t,” 

Little boy! She was two years younger than I 
was and three or four inches shorter, but in poise 
she was a grandmother as compared to me. Her 
sympathy added the last drop to my humiliation. 
I turned from her peevishly, but hating myself for 
doing it; for she was clever, pretty, winsome, and 
well-behaved — to say nothing of being a real dra- 
matic artist. She and her sister were two girls 

65 



CLOWNING <1: a R O U G H LITE 

whose mother always went with them. I saw Rose 
from time to time in the years that followed, and 
soon grew old enough to laugh with her at the 
ridiculous figure I must have cut that night at the 
Cosmopolitan. Six years later, in Leadville — ^but 
I’ll tell that when I come to it. 

Notwithstanding Thompson had come around 
so handsomely, Finnegan was so embarrassed by 
his accident that he wouldn’t act at the Cosmopoli- 
tan any more, and I finished out the week alone ; 
and then came more long, barren periods when I 
couldn’t get anything at all. I tried to join John 
Robinson’s circus once as acrobat and comedian. 
They wouldn’t employ me when the show was in 
Chicago, so I sneaked on to the train when it pulled 
out and went with them anyhow. They didn’t fire 
me until we reached South Bend, Indiana, because 
they didn’t find me ; but there they threw me out of 
their midst so emphatically that I began to believe 
they really didn’t want me. So I sadly journeyed 
back to Chicago the best way I could — ^partly on 
freight trains, partly in kindly farmers’ wagons, 
partly on foot. 

Ben Collins and I then organized a team and got 
an occasional job in the halls. Ben couldn’t do acro- 
batic stuff, but he was a good, dancer, clever at 
putting over a comic song, and a genius who could 
not only devise numerous gags and stunts, but 
66 



c L O W N I HI G 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


write his own songs. He was tall and thin, with a 
solemn, ludicrous countenance. As he was no mu- 
sician, nearly all the songs he wrote were parodies 
on some sentimental or tragic poem — the more 
solemn it was, the better. The first stanza of his 
parody of “Bingen on the Rhine” will give a good 
idea of what used to knock ’em off their seats forty 
and fifty years ago : 

A bum in front of a theatre door stood waiting for a check; 

The police tried to drive him off, but he firmly stood on 
deck. 

His stomach yearned for lunch, so he turned and entered 
a saloon, 

But the barkecp hit him in the eye with an Etruscan brown 
spittoon. 

The weary bummer faltered as he sadly murmured, ^‘Sure 

You wouldn^t treat me thusly, only you know I’m poor. 

Why, Fve been mistaken for Vanderbilt, but you can see 
I’m not the man ; 

For I was born in Kalamazoo., Kalamazoo in Michigan.” 

The accent should of course be placed on the last 
syllable in “Michigan.” A large part of the punch 
in this parody lay in that name Kalamazoo. For 
years after the town first became known, in fact 
until very recently, the word Kalamazoo was con- 
sidered highly humorous, and it alone was suffi- 
cient to put a vaudeville or minstrel joke over with 
a bang. In later years Oshkosh was taken up by 
the jokesters and was considered even funnier. The 
quantity of laughter caused by those two words in 



CLOWNING, THROUGH LIFE 

the past half century is incalculable. Oshkosh and 
Kalamazoo — to say nothing of Hoboken, Kokomo, 
Bucyrus, Keokuk, Saginaw and a few other towns 
— should be regarded as public benefactors ; their 
names have added so much to the gayety of the 
nation and to relief from indigestion. 


68 



VIII 


I SEIZED every opportunity in those youthful days 
to see the great actors of the period. Sometimes 
(when I grew old enough) I got into the play itself 
as a supernumerary, and once in a while I managed 
to squeeze out a quarter for a gallery seat. I saw 
Charlotte Cushman in one of her greatest parts, 
Meg Merrilees. I saw Joseph Jefferson in his 
prime as Rip, Bob Acres and Dr. Pangloss. I saw 
Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett, John McCul- 
lough and other stars of the day, either from the 
gallery or from the stage. I was trying to get in 
as an extra when I was a little too large to be a 
page and not big and brawny enough to look 
vicious and carry a spear. Another year or two did 
much to mend the latter disability, and presently 
I was being taken on as a super, though at first they 
had to paint either lines or whiskers on my face to 
age me a bit 

Collins, Finnegan and all my other stage-struck 
friends did the same, and we had opportunity to 
study some wonderful dramatic art and, inciden- 
tally, to enjoy portions of some fascinating plays — • 

for they usually cleared us out of the way after our 

69 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

time on the stage was over. An occasional manager 
who was disposed to be cheap or who couldn’t 
afford to be otherwise gave the supers no pay save 
glory and the pleasure of seeing a part of the show ; 
but after we had had a little experience we refused 
to do business with that sort of entertainment. Our 
regular honorarium in the high class productions 
where we worked was fifty cents per night. There 
was a middleman or padrone at both McVicker’s 
and the Academy of Music who had the job of 
collecting and hiring us, and my information is 
that he got a dollar a head for tis and pocketed the 
other half. 

How we envied the “basket boys,” as the regular 
repertoire actors were called, because each had a 
big basket in which all his costumes were carried ; 
the one, for example, which he wore as Brabantio 
in Othello, as the King in Hamlet, as Casca in 
Julius Caesar and so on. The same costume could 
sometimes do for several parts — at least, it was 
forced to serve for several. The majority of the 
garments were decidedly fustian, too — ^very little 
real silk and velvet and brocade and jewels then. 
The gaslights were dimmer than our electricity, 
and more was left to the imagination of the au- 
dience. 

As for our “super” costumes, they were still 
cheaper and fewer in number, so that one often 
70 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 


wore precisely the same suit in ancient, medieval 
and tolerably modern characters. And the men 
collected at random for the parts didn’t always fit 
the costumes. Sometimes a big fellow like Fin- 
negan would fairly split his trunk hose during the 
play, while some skinny little chap would be wear- 
ing alleged tights “a world too wide for his shrunk 
shank” and hanging in folds about his calves. The 
gallery was disposed to be boisterous in the Sev- 
enties, and when several friends up there recog- 
nized you on the stage and bawled “Supe !” it was 
a bit disconcerting, though you had the consolation 
of knowing that their jeers were prompted largely 
by envy. 

I appeared as citizen, ruffian, soldier, peasant, 
or brigand in Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Macbeth, 
Richelieu, The Robbers, Virginias, Ingomar and 
other plays, most of them very heavy tragedy. With 
the matchless Edwin Booth I even had the honor 
of appearing ip Hamlet — sometimes as a guard or 
attendant, sometimes as one of the strolling players. 

Edwin Booth ! What a giant of the mimic world 
he was 1 As a classic tragedian we haven’t seen his 
like since. The most magnificent male voice that 
I have ever heard on the stage, and the greatest 
dramatic genius for certain parts — Hamlet, for 
example. In my opinion, no Hamlet of the past 
quarter century is in his class. He followed to the 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


letter Hamlet’s advice to the players, which he so 
often recited; he did not saw the air nor tear a 
passion to tatters ; but suited the action to the word, 
speaking his lines trippingly on the tongue, yet 
never overstepping the modesty of Nature, and 
with a temperance which gave his discourse 
smoothness. Repression was a featute of most of 
Booth’s serious acting; he never ranted nor raised 
his voice unnecessarily. I have seen him, a rather 
small, slender figure, come upon a stage full of 
bigger men and begin speaking in a low, even 
tone, and in a moment there would be a deathlike 
stillness in the house. Within two minutes he dom- 
inated the whole scene; you forgot that there was 
anyone else on the stage. 

He was a master of the art of pantomime, and 
particularly expressive with his hands. Some little 
critics have complained that he moved his hands 
too much and too nervously. I wish we had more 
actors who could do with those members what he 
did. And just here, at the expense of my modesty, 
I want to quote from an address made by Augustus 
Thomas a few years ago before a graduating class 
of the American Academy of Dramatic Art. 

“In my opinion,” said Mr. Thomas, “the man 
who uses his hands most gracefully in the theatre 
today is Eddie Foy. You laugh at my mention of 
him because he is a comedian. Eddie wouldn’t 
72 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

object if we called him a good professional clown. 
But his gestures are marvelously graceful; and it 
is his knowledge of boxing that makes him so easy 
with his hands.” 

Now with all possible respect for Mr. Thomas, 
whom I admire very much, I must say that I do 
not think any grace which I may have displayed 
with my hands is in very large measure due to my 
experience as a decidedly amateurish boxer. I 
think rather that it owed its origin to the apprecia- 
tion of the possibility of beautiful expression with 
the hands which I derived from watching Edwin 
Booth. From that time forward I was always train- 
ing my hands to say things — to say them comically 
sometimes, it is true, but still defdy, perhaps even 
gracefully. 

Booth and Joseph Jefferson appealed to me and 
do yet as the two greatest American actors. I was 
particularly interested in Booth in my very youth- 
ful days because at that time I wanted to do trag- 
edy — the heavier, the better — and I fully believed 
that I would some day achieve it. I used to stand 
spellbound, watching him do his marvelous Ham- 
let, and saying to myself, so fervently that it was 
a prayer, “Oh, God, will I ever be able to do that?” 
I got hold of some cheap, tattered copies of Ham- 
let and other Shakespearean things and conned 
them by the hour. I made myself odious to my 

73 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

family and friends by my striding with long, drag- 
ging steps and reciting with finger on brow, “To be 
or not to be — ” or raving: 

“Art thou some god, some angd or some devil 
That mak’st my blood cold aisi my hair to stare?” 

Most geese long to be swans, I reckon, and it’s 
amazing how many comedians, and some very suc- 
cessful comedians, at thaty have yearned for a 
chance to strut through the old-time classic drama 
in blank verse. I think this disease used to be some- 
what more prevalent among comedians than it is 
now — although almost every comedian still thinks 
that he really ought to be doing something more 
serious than he is. Forty years and more ago a 
comedian, especially what was called a “low” or 
farce comedian, was apt to be regarded rather con- 
descendingly by the intelligentsia. Many of the 
trade resented this keenly and longed to show the 
highbrows and the rest of the world as well that 
they could do something better than play the fool. 
Furthermore, their mouths watered as they heard 
that Booth was making $75,000 a year. 

But as time went on, the good farce and musical 
comedy stars were treated with more respect by 
critics and public and they earned more money. 
Nowadays a college professor isn’t at all ashamed 
to be seen laughing at Charlie Chaplin. Likewise, 
74 



CLOWNING r H R O U G H LIFE 

in these latter days we have come to realize that a 
great deal of that old pompous tragic stuff which 
the highbrows used to admire so greatly and which 
stage-struck youngsters mouthed so endlessly was 
mostly sound and fury, tinsel and bombast. I don’t 
mean Shakespeare, but some of the imitation 
Shakespeare of the Nineteenth Century — such 
plays as Brutus, Virginius, Ingomar, Cams Grac- 
chus, Cromwell and the like, which were consid- 
ered big-time stuff half a century ago. 

It took me several years to realize that my face 
wasn’t built for tragedy, and that it would be a pity 
to waste my talents as a dancer and funmaker. But 
after I had given up the hope of playing Hamlet 
and Lear and had made a success in musical com- 
edy and extravaganza foolery, I still clung to the 
hope that I might some day do something a bit, 
more serious, or at least might be permitted to 
essay the part of that wittiest and most delightful 
of Shakespeare’s jesters. Touchstone. But somehow 
the managers couldn’t see me even as a Shakes- 
pearean clown. 

I had my greatest opportunity to see Booth 
during his long run at McVicker’s in the spring of 
1876. Collins and Finnegan were two others who 
“suped” with me, and we, like the star, played 
many parts. Finnegan got himself in bad with the 
great man, however, and was given the air before 

75 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the engagement was over. He and I were chosen 
one day to be among the strolling players in 
Hamlet. In our first scene with the Prince, after 
he had given us our instructions and expounded 
his theory of acting, we made deep obeisances and 
half backed out in true court style — all but Finne- 
gan. Either he forgot his manners or else he hadn’t 
been properly rehearsed, for he simply turned and 
clumped out with his head in air as if a Prince of 
Denmark were no more to him than a two-spot. 

Booth was furious. When he came off the stage 
a few minutes later, he was rumbling in his deep 

voice, “Where is that damned fool? Where 

is that dogan?” “Dogan” was his own private 

word for a scrub actor — a “ham” of the lowest 
type. Where he dug it up or what its intrinsic 
meaning was, I haven’t the slightest idea. We 
warned Finnegan and got him out of the way 
before the Jovian lightning struck him. “I’m afraid 
you’ll never be a tragedian, Jack,” Collins told 
him, sadly. 

Collins stood higher with Booth than Finnegan 
because he wrote poems about him — long, lauda- 
tory odes which he labored to polish much more 
carefully than he ever did his slap-dash parodies. 
At various times he handed two or three of these 
effusions to Booth backstage and the kindly trage- 
dian, doubtless guessing that Ben hadn’t written 
76 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the poems for fun, gave him a five- or ten-dollar 
honorarium on each occasion. What Mr. Booth 
thought of the poetry I don’t know; he might have 
laughed at it in secret, but the grave courtesy with 
which he treated Ben at these times gave no hint 
of it. I can laugh yet as I recall one of those scenes ; 
the tall, gangling Collins waylaying Booth in the 
corridor that led to his dressing-room and handing 
him the paper as solemnly as if it had been a state 
document, and Booth quite as gravely taking a bill 
out of his pocket and handing it to Collins. 


77 




IX 


About the time that Booth’s engagement closed, 
Ben and I obtained jobs with a circus which had 
just opened on the lots in the outskirts of the city 
and which needed new talent. I suspect now that 
some of their actors had quit because of difficulty 
in getting their pay; but we did not learn of the 
show’s financial worries until some time after we 
had started with them. 

Ben and I were engaged principally to work in 
“the grand concert or second part, beginning im- 
mediately after the main puffawmence is ovah.” 
We worked both single and double, for about five 
of us gave the whole program, notwithstanding the 
announcer’s claim that the roster embraced all the 
most famous stars of the variety and opera stage. I 
also did a bit of acrobatic stuff in the circus proper, 
my principal stunt being the jumping over horses 
which used always to take place immediately after 
the grand opening parade around the ring. All the 
acrobats in the show took part in this, running out 
on a long plank and somersaulting farther and far- 
ther as more horses were placed in line, coming 

79 



CLOWNING <r H R O U G H LIRE 


down on a big pillow on the other side of them. I 
could jump over ten horses after a little practice, 
though I usually make it fifteen when I tell the 
story nowadays. If my hearer looks particularly 
easy, I say twenty. 

We artists all had to assist in other ways at vari- 
ous times, for this was a small wagon show and 
there were many emergencies. Ben and I greatly 
enjoyed the leisurely vagabonding through the 
country on top of a wagon during the bright sum- 
mer weather, but when there came a rainy spell 
and the old dressing and dining tents leaked and 
the wagons got stuck, as they did sometimes, in that 
glue-like black prairie gumbo — for scarcely a road 
in Illinois had even a load of gravel on it then — 
and we all must turn to and help lift the wheels 
out of the mud, meanwhile getting muddy our- 
selves plumb up to the ears, the thing lost some of 
its glamor. The good fellowship and the jesting 
and raillery of the dining tent were very pleasant, 
but they could not conceal our growing conviction 
that the cooking was bad and the food often stale 
and of none too high quality. 

For two months after we joined it, the show 
limped around over northern Illinois and southern 
Wisconsin, with a side trip or two into Iowa. Our 
salaries were always weeks in arrears. We drew 
pretty good crowds, and we actors could not under- 
80 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Stand why the show was so hard up. Why, the graft 
income alone must have been a very sweet thing, 
for every variety of crooked stuff known to the old 
show business was practised in our midst. The shell 
game, three-card monte and other swindles flour- 
ished openly on the grounds, and our ticket sellers, 
peanut and juice vendors were all short-change 
artists. The coarse work they got away with would 
have made a burglar blush. A favorite stunt of the 
refreshment peddlers was to jostle the hand of a 
customer high up in the seats so that he spilled 
some of his change; of course it fell through the 
seats, and gleaners stealing about underneath 
picked it up. 

It became known afterwards that one of the 
owners of the circus who was travelling with us as 
manager was systematically bleeding the enterprise 
and pocketing the money. The end came at last in 
Galena, Illinois. Our forces had already been 
greatly reduced, and there an attachment was 
served on some of the equipment. Towards the 
close of the afternoon performance it was noised 
about among us that the manager had disappeared. 
His game was played out and he had vamosed with 
a fat roll. 

The actors discussed the situation gloomily, sit- 
ting about on trunks and boxes at the close of the 
show, we concert performers still with our gro- 

81 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

tesquely made-up faces. Not one of us had less than 
one or two months’ salary coming to him. 

“Well,” said Ben Collins, firmly, after a solemn 
pause, “I ain’t goin’ to wash up till I get my 
money.” 

As if that manager cared whether he even went 
on living or not! No one but Collins would ever 
have thought of such a whimsical ultimatum. It 
gave the rest of us a laugh and relieved the tension 
somewhat. Presently Sam Bigley, who had been a 
ticket seller, drew Collins and me aside. 

“I’ve got a proposition to make to you boys,” 
said he. “The show’s done. There won’t even be a 
night performance, and we’ll all have to look out 
for ourselves. Now I’ve got a few dollars, and my 
idea is this : I’ll buy a horse and wagon, pick up a 
fiddler somewhere, and we’ll go out through the 
country, givin’ minstrel shows ; make only the little 
cross-roads towns that never get a chance to see a 
show. They’ll go crazy about it. I’ll be middleman, 
you fellows ends. I see a chance to make some good 
money at it.” 

Bigley was one of the short-change experts I 
have mentioned, and I would not hesitate to charge 
that some of the few dollars he spoke of had been 
“held out” on his employer in the course of his 
ticket-selling. As I’ve already said, the black-face 
minstrel show was the most popular of all amuse- 
82 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


ments at that period, and his gamble might be a 
good one. Anyhow, Ben and I were not disposed to 
question his judgment. We were ready to throw in 
with anyone who would put up the money and give 
us a job. 

Travelling equipment was cheap in those days; 
I think the old horse that Bigley bought cost him 
$20 and the covered spring wagon $10. He got hold 
of an alleged fiddler named Fritzmeier — German, 
but perhaps one of the worst performers that ever 
insulted a violin; but Sam argued that the rubes 
wouldn’t know the difference. I don’t remember 
clearly what Ben’s salary and mine were to be — 
I think it was $10 a week apiece, and board; but 
whatever it was, I know we didn’t get it. 

Thereafter we four trouped merrily over north- 
ern Illinois, carrying our whole show, performers, 
wardrobe and all in one light wagon. Bigley had a 
supply of dodgers printed whose headlines read in 
part: 


GRAND MINSTREL SHOW 
AND DANCE 
AT TO-NIGHT 

Then followed a blurb about the company and 
a statement that the admission to both show and 
dance would be only twenty-five cents. 


83 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

When we drove into a village at nightfall or 
early in the morning, the first concern was to find 
a place for our performance. There was seldom a 
“hall” in the village, so most of the time we must 
use either the schoolhouse (if we could get it) or 
the tavern dining-room. Wherever it was, we hast- 
ily filled in the location by hand on our dodgers 
and then went out and distributed them, meanwhile 
doing a lot of personal advertising. We threw the 
bills into farmers’ wagons, and thereby drew some 
trade from the nearby country. Folks in and around 
those settlements were hungry for amusement but 
seldom saw any; and our ridiculous little show 
seemed to give them much pleasure. 

We opened the doors at 7 o’clock. Bigley sold 
the tickets and of course did his short-change spe- 
cialty whenever possible. Say a family of four 
came up to the door, and the father handed Sam 
a ten-dollar bill. Rapidly he would begin counting 
out ones in return — “A dollar for the tickets — ^two 
— three — four — five — six — seven — eight — nine — 
and a dollar for the tickets,” crowd the money into 
the man’s hand and gently shove him forward to 
make room for another customer. I’ve seen him 
work that trick and others like it time and again, 
though he did a great deal of his slick work with 
quarters and halves. 

We usually began the show at 7.30 or 7.45. If a 
84 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

person was coming at all, he came by that time. 
Then Bigley would shut the doors and come to 
the stage to act as interlocutor, Collins being 
Bones and I Tambo. We would open with the 
“Grand Minstrel First Part,” our chorus of three 
voices no doubt being very effective. Our jokes 
could not all claim to be strictly new and original, 
but the country folks evidently hadn’t heard them, 
for they gave us lots of laughs. To give a sample of 
our wit, I would open up with, “Mr. Bigley, why 
is a dog’s tail like the end of the world?” 

“I am sure I do not know, Mr. Foy. There seems 
to be no resemblance. Why is a dog’s tail like the 
end of the world?” 

“Because it’s fur to the end.” (Great laughter.) 

“But suppose the dog has no tail,” the discom- 
fited Bigley would rejoin. 

“Oh, then it ain’t so fur!” (Roars of laughter.) 

Anyone who thinks this is a rotten joke is hereby 
informed that we had lifted it verbatim right out 
of the repertoire of Emerson and Manning, in 
whose theatre it had for months at a stretch drawn 
laughter from some of the best minds of Chicago. 

After our grand opening we had several single 
and double acts, including a real circus acrobatic 
stunt by myself, and — though I hate to admit it — 
a violin solo by Fritzmeier. But Sam was appar- 
ently correct when he predicted that the rural 

85 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

husbandmen wouldn’t know that Fritz was rotten, 
for they never jeered nor threw anything at him, 
but on the contrary even applauded him at times. 

When our none-too-long program was ended, 
the chairs would be pushed aside and an old- 
fashioned dance followed, Fritz doing the fiddling, 
while we three acted as hosts and one of us called 
the figures — for our crowds seldom knew how to 
dance anything but the old quadrilles, the Virginia 
reel and the like. By ten or eleven the party would 
be breaking up. 

Sometimes the cross-roads settlements where we 
played were so small that there was no semblance 
of a hotel, and we ate and slept with whomever 
would keep us. Frequently these hosts made their 
charge for our entertainment so low that even 
Bigley couldn’t kick on it. It was at the village 
hotels that he would usually pull his final bit of 
cleverness. Just as we were about to leave, he would 
draw forth a thin pocketbook and say, hesitatingly, 
“Now, how much is our bill, Mr. Jones?” 

“Four dollars,” perhaps the landlord would say. 

At that, Sam would wilt. He would peer into the 
thin wallet, finger a bill or two inside it nervously 
and say, “My goodness, Mr. Jones, is that the best 
you can do?” 

“Well, that’s the reg’lar charge,” the host would 
reply. 

86 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“I’m not complaining, understand,” Sam would 
go on, humbly; “it’s just that I’m awfully hard up. 
Business has been bad — ^it just seems that I can’t 
get even, no matter how hard I try” — his voice 
would falter. “We only took in thirteen dollars last 
night (gulp) and I haven’t paid these boys their 
salary for two weeks — and — and — ” 

At that point, his eyes would overflow. Actually! 
He needed no glycerin nor sobby violin music to 
help him to weep real tears like the most emotional 
movie star. It was a hard-hearted landlord, indeed, 
that wouldn’t knock oflf a dollar, or at least a half 
after that. Sometimes he almost had the innkeeper 
crying himself — ^which made it all the easier for 
Sam to short-change him out of an additional 
quarter or half. Twenty minutes later, well out of 
town, Bigley would be roaring with laughter over 
the joke. 

His remark about our delinquent salary came 
the nearest to truth of anything in his conversation. 
During the time — nearly three months — ^that I 
worked with him, I received, all told, just ten 
dollars in cash. Of course I had shelter and plenty 
to eat, and I really hadn’t any need for spending 
money, for we saw no large towns. 

Our old horse began to show signs of wearing 
out after we had been on the road a few weeks. 
There’s no use denying that he was overworked. 

87 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Pulliag a stout spring wagon and four men with 
their baggage over roads often heavy with mud was 
no sinecure ; and Bigley often pushed him hard in 
his haste to reach a certain town early in the day, 
so that we could engage our hall and get out our 
advertising. In a little country hotel one day we 
met a horse trader, and he and Sam, after some 
sparring, began to talk business. The trader had a 
big, rather good-looking horse which Sam wanted. 
He looked far superior to the one we had. They 
haggled for quite a while and finally the, trader 
agreed to accept Bigley’s horse ahd $2S in cash in 
exchange for his own. 

Sam was in high glee and very proud of himself 
when we parted from the fellow. “I believe I 
ought to be a horse trader myself,” he chuckled. “I 
certainly got the best of that deal. That old racka- 
bones I traded him was about done. This horse is 
worth five of him.” 

He continued to brag on himself for two or three 
days. The new horse certainly did seem to step 
along nicely for a while. But in less than a week 
he was stricken with some sudden illness — nobody 
could diagnose it — and twenty-four hours later he 
was dead. 

It was then that I began to learn something of 
Bigley’s real character. He took me aside and pro- 
posed that I steal a team of horses which he had 
88 




Jim Thompson, Eddie Foy’s Early Partner 




CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

observed at a neighboriag farm. I told him in 
perhaps not very well-chosen words what I thought 
of his suggestion, and he then tried it on Collins. 
Ben was equally emphatic in his negative. Our min- 
strel troupe dissolved then and there. It was get- 
ting late in the fall, anyhow, and wagon travelling 
was becoming not so pleasant. We were not far 
from Chicago, and Ben and I made our way home 
as best we could. 

After that there came more lean days ; but after 
a time I joined forces with a fellow named Fry 
for a song and dance act, and we played a few 
engagements in Chicago and neighboring towns. 
Fry was an older and more experienced man than I, 
but not a remarkable performer and we did not 
work together ideally. We were in Burlington, 
Iowa, when the great railroad strike of July, 1877, 
came on. It hurt our business, and finally we closed 
and dissolved partnership. I wanted to go back to 
Chicago, but there wasn’t a wheel turning on the 
C. B. & Q., so I walked from Burlington to Gales- 
burg, forty-three miles. There I found a freight 
train being made up in the yards for Chicago, and 
I rode most of the way home on it. 

When I drifted in, broke and out of a job again, 
Mother was somewhat out of humor with me. 
Nobody who has never suffered from an urge like 
mine can understand it or sympathize with it; and 

89 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Mother was one of those who thought my craze for 
the footlights was mostly laziness and weak- 
mindedness. She was ashamed of me for avoiding 
honest toil. She had been insisting for years that 
I ought to learn a trade ; but I think she had grave 
fears that with my weak brain, pick-and-shovel 
work was all I was fit for. In spite of her disap- 
proval of my work, she used to wash my tights for 
me and hang them in the back yard to dry, where 
she insisted that they were objects of ridicule to 
the neighbors. She confessed to me in after years 
that when I began to show a liking for the stage, 
she had cherished hopes — though they were faint 
— that I might some day be a real actor, like Booth 
or McCullough, for example; but the frivolous 
stuff I was doing gave no promise of that. 

Now I was twenty-one, and hadn’t yet gotten 
anywhere in my profession. When I came back 
from Burlington, she intimated in her first burst of 
petulance (though she repented of it afterwards) 
that if I didn’t quit my foolishness and get a job, 
I might have to quit boarding at home. I scoured 
the city looking for another engagement, but 
couldn’t land one. I came home one evening 
hungry as a wolf, and in order to pep things up a 
bit so that I could get a good square supper, I told 
her I had a job at a downtown music hall at fifteen 
dollars a week, beginning immediately. To put the 
90 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

thing over with a bigger punch, I directed her to 
call me early, as I had to get down to a forenoon 
rehearsal. 

That earned me a corking good supper, as I had 
expected. She sent Marion out for a steak, and I 
ate enough for a three days’ supply and went to 
bed. I hadn’t expected that Mother would be quite 
so enthusiastic about calling me early next morn- 
ing, but she did it up brown — she awoke me at 
6 A. M. 

“Waz matter?” I mumbled, still half dead with 
sleep. 

“Get up!” she ordered. “ ’Twill soon be time for 
that rehearsal.” 

“Rehearsal?” I muttered, still too dopey to re- 
member my lines, “I haven’t got any rehearsal.” I 
didn’t come to myself until too late. 

She stood looking at me in silent disgust for a 
moment, but didn’t hit me with a chair, as she’d 
have been justified in doing. Presently she turned, 
went into the next room and began viciously 
poking the fire in the kitchen stove ; and as she did 
so, I heard her mutter to herself, “A hell of an 
acthor, I’m thinkin’.” Poor old Mother! She wasn’t 
to blame for lapsing into unaccustomed profanity 
nor for being out of patience with me. I must have 
seemed almost entirely hopeless to her — predes- 
tined to be a plumb failure in life. Sometimes I 

91 



CLOWNING, THROUGH LIFE 

almost looked that way to myself — ^but I never 
quite gave up. In after years, when I could afford 
to do it, I laughed at Mother many a time for that 
morning’s remark; and yet she would get even with 
me by sticking to her contention that I hadn’t yet 
become an actor. 

But I was now right on the eve of a turn in my 
fortunes. During the winter I got an engagement 
at a concert hall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, run by a 
man named Bethune. There were no vaudeville 
circuits then, no booking bureaus or agencies. 
Actors got jobs through a friendly system of notifi- 
cation among managers. If Bethune needed an 
acrobatic single act, he asked Hamlin and other 
producers in Chicago and perhaps one or two in 
Cincinnati and St. Louis to notify him if they knew 
of something good in that line. It was in this way 
that I landed the Fort Wayne engagement. I was 
happy upon arriving there to find that pretty little 
Rose Howland and her mother and sister were in 
town. Ever since she had befriended me on that 
disastrous night at the Cosmopolitan I had loved 
her and saw her whenever I had opportunity, but 
my financial circumstances made it out of the 
question for me to think of any real wooing. 

Also working at Bethune’s were Hall and 
Thompson, a well-known song and dance team, 
who had recently come from Hamlin’s, in Chicago. 
92 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

They split while at Bethune’s, and Thompson, who 
had taken a liking to me, asked me if I wouldn’t 
take Hall’s place. Jim Thompson was a good-look- 
ing, likable young fellow a few years older than I, 
had a beautiful tenor voice and was a clever per- 
former. I accepted his proposition eagerly; and 
thus began a partnership which was always con- 
genial, which lasted more than six years, and in the 
course of which I at last began to get a real foot- 
hold on. Ambition’s ladder. 


Q3 




X 


After closing our engagements at Fort Wayne, 
Thompson and I went back to Chicago and re- 
hearsed for several days. Through Thompson’s 
prestige we got a short engagement at Hamlin’s 
theatre. John A. Hamlin, by the way, will be 
fondly remembered by middle-aged and older peo- 
ple as the maker of Hamlin’s Wizard Oil. Many a 
village dweller of the latter Sixties, the Seventies, 
Eighties and Nineties saw almost his only enter- 
tainment at a Wizard Oil medicine show in the 
street under a flickering naphtha lamp, the whole 
affair often consisting of no more than one man or 
two men with banjos. Hamlin began making 
Wizard Oil shortly after the Civil War and be- 
came wealthy on it. He built his theatre in Chicago 
just after the fire and later changed its name to the 
Grand Opera House. He was the father of George 
Hamlin, a well-known tenor singer of later years. 

From Chicago we jumped to Kansas City, where 
we played a four week’s engagement at Val Love’s 
concert hall, located then at Fourth and Walnut 
Streets. The program at such places began about 

95 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

8 P. M. and lasted until 2 or 3 in the moniing. 
First there was the inevitable Grand Minstrel First 
Part, and all we specialty performers were ex- 
pected to black up and appear in the semicircle to 
swell the chorus and also do a solo. Even the inter- 
locutor and end men were as a rule single or double 
performers in the variety program which followed. 
This program, known as “the olio,” lasted for at 
least two hours, and finally, there was a full-length 
drama to close the evening’s entertainment. At 
some of the higher class concert halls legitimate 
dramas, ranging from pastoral comedy to tragedy, 
which had been seen on the regular stage, were 
given ; but at others, such as Love’s place, the plays 
given were usually those written especially for the 
concert-hall stage, and were inclined to be farcical 
and risque. 

From Kansas City we moved on to what was 
then and has been to this day one of the most 
famous little towns in the United States — Dodge 
City, Kansas. Dodge was small, but its palaces of 
amusement were prosperous and up to date and 
their patrons insisted on having high-class attrac- 
tions — such as Thompson and Foy, for example. 
So one late spring day we sauntered on a leisurely 
little Santa Fe train towards what a Chicago editor 
had called “the Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of 
the West” — ^to which Dodge retorted, perhaps not 
96 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


without reason, that she was no worse than Chi- 
cago. 

One of the most vivid of my first impressions of 
Dodge yet remaining is that of dust ; heat, wind, and 
flat prairie, too, but above all dustl It had been dry 
for some time when we arrived, and the wind was 
driving clouds of yellow dust along the ’main 
street; the buildings, the horses, people’s hats and 
clothing were covered with it. 

As we rolled into town we passed an enormous 
pile of bones beside the track. I’m not strong on 
figures, but I guess that that heap must have been 
twenty-five feet high and a hundred feet long. The 
sight of it suggested to Thompson’s mind the possi- 
bility that they might be killing people in Dodge 
faster than they could bury them ; but we learned 
later that these were buffalo bones — buffalo, and a 
few cattle — awaiting shipment to manufactories of 
fertilizer and other products. 

There was just one train a day into Dodge from 
the East, and the whole town turned out to meet it. 
City officials, police and county constabulary, mer- 
chants and their families, gamblers, cowboys, dance 
hall girls, bad men and bad women, they were all 
there on the little station platform, mingling 
amicably or at least courteously. Thompson and I 
were engaged to work at the combined concert and 
dance hall and gambling house owned by a man 

97 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

named Ben Springer, and as we were a star attrac- 
tion direct from Chicago, Ben met us at the train 
and proceeded to introduce us to everybody of con- 
sequence in town. Almost the first person to whom 
he presented me was a trim, good-looking young 
man with a pleasant face and carefully barbered 
mustache, well-tailored clothes, hat with a rakish 
tilt and two big silver-mounted, ivory-handled 
pistols in a heavy belt 

“This is our sheriff, Mr. Masterson,” said 
Springer. “Bat, we call him.” 

Masterson and I soon took a liking to each other 
and were friends thenceforward. We were also 
presented to Mayor Kelley, Judge Sam Marshall 
(city judge, I think). Postmaster Fringer, Charlie 
Bassett, the City Marshal ; Wyatt Earp or Erb — 
I think the former spelling wad correct, though 
both have been used — one of the city police and a 
famous gunfighter; Jim and Virgil Earp; Luke 
Short and his partner Harris, gamblers; Bob 
Wright, a leading merchant; Kline and Shine, the 
newspaper men; Shotgun Collins, Doc Brown, 
Doc Holliday and other notables. 

An ugly but fascinating little town was Dodge ; 
one broad street running nearly east and west, with 
most of the buildings on the north side because the 
railroad ran along its southern border; but a 
sprinkling of buildings on the south side of the 
98 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Street, too, fronting on the track, among which Avas 
Ben Springer’s. As I have hinted, these business 
men weren’t often troubled by the roar of passing 
trains. The rear ends of these buildings were not 
far from the bank of the Arkansas River — a 
shallow, quiet stream which went on a tear once in 
a while and did some damage. Spanning the river 
was a ramshackle wooden bridge. That way the 
cattle men crossed when they rode back toward 
Texas. When they were coming in with their herds 
and the river was low, they rode with them right 
through the stream. 

At intervals along Main Street was a whisky 
barrel which it was the duty of the police force to 
keep filled with water for fire protection. Many a 
boozer put them to similar use by sticking his head 
into one here and there and cooling his own super- 
heated interior. Most of the stores had wooden 
awnings or porches extending across the sidewalk. 
Between the posts at their outer edge was a seat 
for loafers, and just outside of that was usually a 
horse trough. Of course there were plenty of hitch- 
ing posts, usually with horses stamping or dozing 
beside them. 

It must be admitted that a goodly percentage of 
the buildings on Main Street were devoted to 
amusement and refreshment of one sort and an- 
other. There were reasons for this. Dodge enter- 

9.9 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


tained large numbers of out of town men, mostly 
from Texas, who always arrived from their long, 
dusty journey very thirsty and lonesome. Dodge’s 
own citizens were mostly well-behaved folk, and 
there were some very solid business men among 
them. These lived mostly on the two or three short 
cross streets or in scattering dwellings north of 
Main Street. Still farther north was a low swell 
called “Boot Flill,” supposedly because no one was 
buried in the little cemetery there save men who 
had died with their boots on; but in reality, many 
kinless or friendless men who died otherwise were 
laid there, too. I found later that most of the West- 
ern mining camps had their Boot Hills. 

Thompson and I opened at Springer’s place on 
the night of our arrival, and seemed to give satis- 
faction. I didn’t hesitate to josh the town a bit in 
my original parodies and patter. Had I known the 
West better then, I might have been more careful ; 
but even as it was, I suffered no ill consequences. 
It may be interesting to convey a hint of what did 
happen, as well as to show another person’s opinion 
of my manner as I appeared at that time by quoting 
from a history of Dodge City written by Robert 
M. Wright in 1913. Mr. Wright in the Seventies 
was one of the firm of Wright, Beverly & Com- 
pany, owners of the biggest general store and cattle- 
300 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

men’s supply house in Dodge or in all that part of 
the country. Says he: 

“Eddie Foy, one of the greatest comedians of 
our day, made his debut or about his first appear- 
ance at Dodge City. He dressed pretty loud and 
had a kind of Fifth Avenue swaggering strut, and 
made some distasteful jokes about the cowboys. 
This led to their capturing Foy by roping, fixing 
him up in a picturesque way, ducking him in a 
friendly way in a horse trough, riding'him around 
on horseback and taking other playful familiarities 
with him, just to show their friendship for him. 
The dressing up and ducking of Eddie is positively 
vouched for by a lady with whom he boarded and 
who still lives in Dodge City. The writer does not 
vouch for the story of the ducking, but he does 
know that they played pranks on him which Foy 
took with such good grace that he captured the 
cowboys completely. Every night his theatre was 
crowded with them, and nothing he could say or 
do offended them ; but on the contrary, they made 
a little god of him. The good people of Dodge 
have watched his upward career with pride and 
pleasure, and have always taken a great interest in 
him and claimed him as one of their boys, because 
it was here that he first began to achieve greatness. 
I think he played here the most of one summer and 

101 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

then went to Leadville, Colorado, when and where 
he kept going on and up. His educated-admirers 
here predicted a great future for him. This the 
writer has heard them do, and surely he has not 
disappointed them. Here is further success and 
prosperity to you, Eddie, and may you live long 
and die happy.” 

The “Fifth Avenue swaggering strut” to which 
he refers might have been the peculiar stage walk 
which I was already adopting and which I used 
a great deal in after years. I probably wouldn’t be 
believed if I were to say that I don’t recall being 
ducked, so I’ll let it go at that. However, the boys 
did haze me around a bit, just by way of initiation, 
but I was determined to be nonchalant and not let 
them see that they were worrying me, even if they 
broke my neck. The whole affair ended in a laugh 
and a drink all around ; that night Thompson and 
I got more applause than ever, and we stayed at 
Dodge all summer. 

My bearing on that occasion must have given 
the town an exaggerated idea of my courage, for I 
was presently offered an opportunity to enlist as a 
hired gunman. That year the Santa Fe and the 
Denver & Rio Grande Railroads were fighting for 
the right of way up the Grand Canyon of the Ar- 
kansas from Canyon City to Leadville, Colorado. 
Big strikes of silver had occurred at Leadville, the 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

place was beginning to boom, and had as yet no 
railroad. Both the Santa Fe and the Rio Grande 
were anxious to reach the new bonanza, the only 
feasible way was that up the Arkansas Canyon, and 
there appeared to be room for only one track. So 
hot did the row become that the Santa Fe asked 
Dodge City for a corps of gunfighters, which was 
enthusiastically raised. The Santa Fe being “our 
own road,” had Dodge’s sympathy in the quarrel 
and, besides, there was promise of good pay for 
the fighters. Doc Holliday suggested that I join 
them. 

"But listen, Mr. Holliday,” said I, "I’m no 
fighter. I wouldn’t be any help to the gang. I 
couldn’t hit a man if I shot at him.” 

"Oh, that’s all right,” he replied, easily. "The 
Santy Fee won’t know the difference. You kin use 
a shotgun if you want to. Dodge wants to make a 
good showin’ in this business. You’ll help swell the 
crowd, and you’ll get your pay, anyhow.” 

But I declined to join the expedition, much to 
Doc’s disappointment. Twenty men went from 
Dodge, headed by Ben Thompson, a Texas man 
and a dangerous character who made his home for 
a while among us. From time to time, reports of 
the progress of the war came back to us from the 
front. It was even rumored along Main Street that 
our brave lads had held the roundhouse at Pueblo 

103 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


for several hours against a large detachment of 
United States soldiers. Finally the two roads com- 
promised the matter, greatly to the disgust of cer- 
tain citizens of Dodge who had been hoping that 
the home boys would be permitted to wipe the 
D. & R. G. off the map. 

Dodge was a hard-boiled little town, to be sure, 
but some injustice has been done it. A typical witti- 
cism of those regarding the place is credited to 
John Bender, a conductor on the Santa Fe. Bender 
was an old chap with chilled steel nerves, iron 
gray whiskers with a brown streak down through 
them from each corner of his mouth and keen gray 
eyes looking through old square-bowed silver spec- 
tacles. Going through a car one day he came to two 
bravos sprawled in a seat with dusty boots on the 
cushions opposite. 

“Tickets 1” said Bender. 

“Ain’t got no ticket,” retorted one of the bad 
boys, looking sidewise at the old chap to see how he 
liked it. 

“Where goin’?” asked the conductor. 

“Goin’ to hell!” was the pert reply. 

It didn’t faze old John. “Gimme a dollar, cash,” 
said he, “and git off at Dodge.” 

Yarns like that spread the impression elsewhere 
that Dodge was a town where the leading industries 
were vice and murder, wholesale and retail. It 
104 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


really never seemed to occur to an Easterner that a 
western gunfighter had to have some actual means 
of making a living. Dodge was a town of big busi- 
ness — thousands of head of cattle going through 
there every year and millions of dollars being paid 
for them. But that sort of thing don’t make half as 
interesting reading as the stories of the night life 
and gunfighting. I can testify, however, that the 
majority of days passed rather peacefully in Dodge, 
with no killings and few fights. Some of the pro- 
prieties were very carefully observed, too. For 
example, a woman, no matter whether she was a 
housewife, a dance hall girl or even a courtesan 
(and mind you, the last two were not necessarily 
the same), was treated with grave courtesy on the 
street. Any man who failed to observe this canon 
got into trouble. 

It was eye-opener to me to discover that the 
women who entertained Dodge, no matter in what 
capacity, didn’t as a rule dress in silks and satins, 
but in ginghams and cheap prints; and that goes 
for the dance hall girls when they were on duty, 
too. In some prosperous mining camps where there 
were lucky prospectors with their pockets stuffed 
with dust, some of the girls were togged out in all 
the flashy finery they could lay hands on. But really 
wealthy men were not very numerous in Dodge; 
certainly the cowboys who came there didn’t have 

105 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


money to throw at the birds, though they some- 
times spent six months’ pay in twenty-four hours. 

There were other impressions of such towns 
which have gotten slightly warped by time and dis- 
tance also. Their profession may not appeal to the 
reader of today as having been a very moral one, 
but I want to say that many of those dance hall 
girls were personally as straight as a deaconess. I 
knew some who were widows, some married ones 
with worthless or missing husbands, and not a few 
of these had children. Of course their family affairs 
were not made public. These girls were merely 
hired entertainers ; their job was to dance with the 
men, talk to them, perhaps flirt with them a bit 
and induce them to buy drinks — no more. They 
pretended to drink with the men, but if a girl 
drank with every chap who bought for her, she 
would have been thoroughly soused and out of 
commission before the evening was over. I knew a 
few of these girls who didn’t drink at all ; but for 
some such girl a bottle of wine might be sold a 
thousand times in a year. 

I wish I could present to an audience of today an 
adequate picture of one of those old western amuse- 
ment halls. Writers and artists have tried to do it, 
the movies have tried it, but all in vain — the sounds 
are lacking — the songs and patter from the stage at 
one end, where the show began at eight o’clock and 
106 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

continued until long after midnight; the click and 
clatter of poker chips, balls, cards, dice, wheels 
and other devices at the other end, mingled with a 
medley of crisp phrases — “Thirty-five to one I” 
“Get your money down, folks!” “Eight to one on 
the colors.” “Kenol” “Are you all down, gentle- 
men? Then up she rises!” and a thousand other bits 
representing the numerous varieties of games that 
were being played, and which, though mostly 
spoken in a moderate tone, combined to make a 
babel of sound. All around the room, up above, 
a sort of mezzanine, ran a row of private boxes — 
and they were boxes, indeed ! As plain as a pack- 
ing case! — ^where one might sit and drink and 
watch the show. When the various stage perform- 
ances were over, there was dancing which might 
last until four A. M. or daybreak. 

We had a rival theatre down the street — the 
Varieties. Opinion was divided as to which gave 
the best show ; each house had its partisans. There 
was an actor at the Varieties — I will call him X, 
because he is still alive — ^who had a strong taste for 
the romantic drama. He induced the proprietor to 
let him stage such things as The Lady of Lyons, 
Ruy Bias and Romeo and Juliet as the finales to the 
evening’s entertainment. Of course the script was 
of necessity frightfully mutilated in places. The 
other vaudevillians made up the cast, according 

107 



CLOWNING f H R O U G H LIFE 

to custom, and even some of the girls off the floor 
had to be rung in at times. I fancy one of those pro- 
ductions, if we could see it today, would be funnier 
than the Four Marx Brothers. In Romeo and 
Juliet the only practicable balcony was one of those 
upstairs boxes at the corner of the stage ; and X got 
such a stiff neck from looking up at Juliet there 
for two or three nights that they had to change the 
bill. 

I dwell upon X because of the peculiar interest 
he took in me. He somehow got the impression that 
I was making eyes at a girl with whom he was 
infatuated. I was bunking at the time in a little 
one-room shack on a cross street, and X did me the 
honor to steal around there one night and take a 
couple of pot shots at me through the window. 
Fortunately, he was no Hickok in marksmanship, 
and he missed me, though not far. 

More than twenty years later, I was going into 
Jack’s restaurant in New York one evening when 
I met X face to face. Flis hair had turned white, 
but I recognized him immediately, and so he did 
me. We hesitated a moment and then stopped and 
shook hands, and he told me he was editor of one 
of the big ISTcw York daily newspapers. A few 
years after that he killed his wife, and is now serv- 
ing a life sentence in prison. 

That was the only time I was ever actually shot 
108 



CLOWNING THROUGH 


LIFE 


at, though I’ve been threatened more than once. 
Ben Thompson, the Texas scrapper, gave me an 
opportunity one evening to increase my reputation 
for courage — ^with others, I mean; not with myself. 
Thompson was not highly popular in Dodge, Bat 
Masterson being one of his few friends. Thompson, 
about two-thirds drunk, blundered in back of the 
scenes at our place one evening between acts. Our 
wing scenery was pivoted at top and bottom, one 
side of it being painted for an indoor set, the other 
for a woodland. When turned with flat side towards 
the stage, one of them formed a temporary dress- 
ing room. I was sitting behind one of these pieces 
one night at a table, making up, when Thompson 
appeared, staggering. Seeing me, he drew his gun 
and called out, “Getcher head outa the way! I 
wanta shoot out that light.” 

The light was an oil lamp on the table at my 
elbow, and on the other side of me from him. 
Thompson didn’t like me, possibly because he 
knew I didn’t like him. Now I was seized with a 
sudden foolish obstinacy. I wasn’t going to move 
my head just because a drunken bum like Thomp- 
son wanted to shoot out a lamp. Neither was I 
going to let him think he could scare me. So, al- 
though I had turned my head to look at him, I 
didn’t lean back, but just sat with my eyes fixed on 
him as impudently as I could. 


109 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“Getcher head outa the way, I told you!” he 
yelled. “I’m gointa shoot out that light. If you 
want it through yer head, too, all right P 

With that, he pointed the gun full at me, while 
I still sat staring at him, hypnotized by my own 
stubbornness. For a long moment we confronted 
each other thus — and then Bat Masterson burst 
into the scene, threw the muzzle of Thompson’s 
gun upward, and partly by coaxing, partly by 
shoving, got him out. When they had gone, I found 
my hands shaking so that I couldn’t put on my 
makeup. I was limp for the rest of the evening. 

Why he didn’t shoot, I don’t know. He didn’t 
mind taking life ; he’d killed no telling how many 
men, and was drunk enough at that moment to be 
absolutely reckless. Of course his chief desire was 
not to kill me but to scare me — ^to show me up as 
a tenderfoot and a weakling. But when I chose to 
play the daredevil, it’s a wonder his trigger thumb 
didn’t act out of sheer annoyance. 

Of course I’d have been, in a way, rather small 
game for him. I had opportunity to study the 
Western gunfighter in all his aspects during my 
several years’ stay in Dodge and various mining 
camps, and I observed that in his point of view and 
reaction, he somewhat resembled a big game hunt- 
er. A man accustomed to killing tigers would feel 
himself belittled if he were asked to go on a 
no 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

squirrel hunt. Man is the biggest game there is; 
and I noticed that a gunfighter, no matter whether 
he was on the right or the wrong side of the law, 
took more pride in bagging the biggest of the big 
game — that is, another noted and dangerous gun- 
fighter — than in bumping off a mere tenderfoot or 
somebody not particularly expert with a gun. An 
officer of the law might have denied any such atti- 
tude, but I could not help feeling that such men 
rather eagerly welcomed the chance when some 
noted gun-handler gave them an excuse to shoot 
It was a much bigger thing to be able to point to a 
notch on your gun and say, “That was Billy the 
Kid,” or “That was Wild Bill Hickok,” than to be 
compelled to admit that “This was a clerk in 
Jones’s store” or “That was a ham actor named 
Foy who was around here last summer and sorter 
got on my nerves.” 

Some of the nicknames of fellows seen around 
Dodge seemed to give the impression that the men 
who bore them were very desperate characters, in- 
deed — Shoot ’Em Up Mike, Shoot His Eye Out 
J ack, for example ; but I do not believe that either 
of those worthies had ever killed anybody. Many 
other nicknames were perhaps more descriptive 
of their owners — some others less: Dirty Face 
Charlie, Dog Kelly, Stink Finger Jim and The 

Stutterin’ Kid are among those I recall. Two in- 

111 



c L O W N I G THROUGH LIFE 

separable pals were called The Nigh Wheeler and 
The Off Wheeler. 

Our place was shot up one night by a gang of 
rough lads from Texas. There was a standing — 
though unwritten — police order of the town to the 
effect that every outsider must park his gun some- 
where as soon as he came in. Most of them were 
kept at one or two of the leading stores, though our 
place was also one of the repositories. This Texas 
bunch had gotten partly loaded up on booze and 
had had some argument with Springer. Along 
about two A. M. they claimed their guns and 
started as if to ride out of town on their way home- 
ward. But just before they rode on to the bridge 
across the river, they saluted us. 

It had come to be one of my jobs to call the 
figures for the old-time square dances which were 
the favorites at Dodge — “All balance leftl Swing 
the right hand lady! Alamon right!” — ^whatever 
that may mean ; I don’t know to this day — and at 
intervals of twenty minutes or so, “Balance all to 
the bar!” — a broad suggestion to everybody to buy 
a drink. We were going merrily on with the dance 
when suddenly, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” came a roar 
of eight or ten big pistols from the outer darkness, 
the crash of glass from our windows and shrieks 
from the women. 

Everybody dropped to the floor at once, accord- 
112 




Dodge City in 1878 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ing to custom. Bat Masterson was just in the act of 
dealing in a game of Spanish monte with Doc 
Holliday, and I was impressed by the instantan- 
eous manner in which they flattened out like pan- 
cakes on the floor. I had thought I was pretty 
agile myself, but those fellows had me beaten by 
seconds at that trick. The firing kept up until it 
seemed to me that the assailants had put hundreds 
of shots through the building. They shot through 
walls as well as windows, for a big .45 bullet would 
penetrate those plank walls as if they had been 
little more than paper. 

The firing had been going on for a minute or so 
when we heard a volley from another quarter — 
this time out on Main Street. Some of the city 
police and deputy sheriffs, hastily collected, were 
attacking the gunfighters in flank. At that the 
Texas men spattered a few pellets at the police and 
then galloped across the bridge in flight. 

Several horses were hurriedly saddled and a 
party of men rode across the river after the rioters, 
but they had too good a start and had gotten away 
in the darkness. The posse found one of them, 
badly wounded by a police bullet, on the hill just 
south of the river. The marvelous part of the 
whole affair was that aside from a few harmless 
scratches and some perforated clothing, nobody in 

the dance hall was hurt. I had just bought a new 

113 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

eleven-dollar suit, and as the night was hot, I had 
left the coat hanging in a dressing room. When 
I went back to get it after the bombardment, I 
found that it had been penetrated by three bullets, 
and one of them had started a ring of fire smolder- 
ing around the hole. 

I became so much a part of the life of Dodge 
during the two summers I stayed there that I was 
once even summoned to serve on a sheriff’s posse. 
A small party of Indians out in the country had 
gotten tanked up on bad booze, killed a farmer and 
plundered his ranch. Instead of notifying the 
soldiers at Fort Dodge, five miles east of us. Sheriff 
Masterson proceeded to attend to the matter him- 
self, and assembled a posse of thirty or more men 
in a few minutes. My official notice consisted of his 
shoving a gun into my hands and saying, “Come 
on, Eddie ; you’re deputized.” I had never fired a 
gun in my life, and if there had been any shooting, 
I might have been as dangerous to ray own side as 
to the enemy ; but like George Ade’s hero who was 
put in a false position, I didn’t propose to Let On. 
So I got on the horse they furnished me and rode 
along with the rest, trying to look very grim, and 
keeping an anxious eye on my weapon. 

Fortunately the Indians, when they sobered up, 
knew better than to get themselves in worse by 
more fighting. When we came to the place where 
114 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 


they were huddled, badly scared, down in a little 
gully, and spread out to attack them on three sides, 
I made up my mind that if any of the poor devils 
were shot by me, it would be done accidentally. 
I intended firing over their heads. When they came 
out, a pitiful few of them, with their hands in the 
air, I was more sorry for them than ever. The thing 
was on my mind as we rode back to town to lodge 
the prisoners in the little adobe jail — “we white 
men gave these Indians guns and whiskey and 
made them what they are, and now we are going to 
kill them for what our civilization has done to 
them.” 

Those Indians a few years before would not have 
given up so easily. The redskins in Kansas, like the 
buffalo, were on the sunset trail ; they were grow- 
ing fewer and degenerating. That enormous pile of 
bones beside the track at Dodge by the way, was a 
pathetic hint of what was happening to the buffalo. 
Only a few years before, when the overland tele- 
graph was first set up, they had made themselves 
something of a nuisance because they regarded the 
frail telegraph poles as having been installed as 
scratching posts for them. After a number of big 
bulls had taken turns at leaning against a pole and 
sawing to and fro, scratching their shaggy hides on 
it, it yielded to the strain and went down. 

Of course some of the buffalo whose bones were 

115 



CLOWNING THROUGH L I ^ E 

gathered on the prairie had not been killed by 
white men ; some of them had been lying there for 
years. Many a new settler, struggling to get a start 
on his prairie claim, might have starved or given 
up and gone back East had it not been for the 
buffalo bones which he picked up and hauled to 
Dodge. But the bison were now being killed by the 
thousand by white men. One hunter named Nick- 
son stood almost in one spot and killed 120 animals 
in forty minutes. This was possible because when 
one was shot from a small herd, the other stupid 
brutes would stand around it, snorting and pawing, 
while the hunter picked off others as fast as he 
could load and shoot. In thirty-five days Nickson 
killed over 2,000. The principal store in Dodge 
sometimes had as high as 50,000 buffalo hides on 
hand at once. 

1878 was the year of the great yellow fever epi- 
demic at Memphis and other towns in the South. 
Early in September Dodge decided to make a con- 
tribution to the sufferers. Some money was raised 
at a public meeting, and our place gave a benefit 
performance, we all contributing our services. I do 
not remember the exact sum raised, but it was sev- 
eral hundred dollars — a large amount for so small 
a town. 

It was that fall also that President Hayes and 
General William T. Sherman, accompanied by 
116 ' 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 


their retinue and a few lesser lights, stopped for a 
day at Dodge while on a tour of the West. There 
was a semi-informal parade, a speech of welcome 
by the Mayor, short responses by the distinguished 
guests, a glance at the cattle pens, and then, as there 
didn’t seem much else to do in Dodge in which a 
President could take part with dignity, Mr. Hayes 
went back to his car. I don’t think he very strongly 
approved of Dodge, anyhow, for he didn’t stir 
from the car for the rest of the day. 

General Sherman, however, was induced to visit 
the two leading amusement resorts. As this was in 
daytime, there wasn’t much doing in the way of en- 
tertainment, but everybody gathered around to see 
Old Tecumseh and talk to him, if possible. His 
grim face, with the deep line between the eyes, his 
tousled hair and stubbly beard, both reddish, 
streaked with gray, gave him the look of a rough- 
and-tumble fighting man whom it would be bad 
policy to stir up. He was inclined to be a bit stiff 
in his manner when he first reached our place ; but 
there were several men present who had fought 
under him or against him down in Mississippi and 
Georgia, and though he knew none of them per- 
sonally, he was glad to see them; and as one and 
another of the cowboys, traders, gamblers and so 
on asked questions or bandied wit with him in the 
easy, informal manner of the West, he relaxed and 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

seemingly began to like it. The boys tried kidding 
him in a more or less respectful manner, but he 
proved to be a match for all comers, shooting back 
bits of repartee with just the suspicion of a grin 
around the corners of the mouth under the grizzled 
beard. Two or three times he laughed outright 
with the crowd. “Uncle Billy” became genuinely 
popular before he left us. 

Thompson and I closed our first engagement at 
Dodge in September. Perhaps we had not quite 
worn out our welcome, but we thought it was time 
for a change of scene, and besides, we had an offer 
from Leadville, the new boom town up in the 
Rockies, and were eager to see and taste the excite- 
ment of a bonanza mining camp. There were many 
kind expressions of regret when we announced that 
we were to leave soon ; and really, we ourselves re- 
gretted going, for Dodge had become rather home- 
like to us. The whole town saw us off on the train 
and gave us a concerted invitation to come back — 
which we did the following spring. 

And by the way, I may mention here that before 
I left Kansas City I began (with much self-satis- 
faction) sending a little money home regularly to 
Mother; and thereafter I continued the practice as 
long as she lived. I really began doing it before I 
could well afford it, just as a matter of pride; I 
wanted to show her that at last I was making good. 
118 



XI 


There was still no railroad to Leadville when 
we reached that town in the fall of ’78, nor was one 
completed for a year thereafter. We rode on the 
Santa Fe to Canyon City, and there took a stage, or 
rather a long buckboard, starting from a little 
office near the penitentiary and following a rough, 
winding, dangerous road up the Arkansas Canyon 
to Leadville. 

We reached the place on September 16th. It was 
hot when we left Dodge, and Thompson and I still 
wore linen suits. Over them we wore the linen 
“dusters” so popular among travellers in that 
period of unpaved roads. These dusters were long, 
overcoat-like garments of brown linen, a sort of 
dust color themselves, intended to protect the other 
clothing — not )for warmth. When we 'began to 
reach six, seven, eight and nine thousand feet above 
sea level, we found that we had come into another 
■climate, and that those two layers of linen and our 
summer underwear felt like so much gauze. As the 
high mountain peaks clustering about Leadville 
came nearer to us, we remarked upon their white- 
ness. Suddenly Jim exclaimed, “Good Lord, Eddie, 

119 



THROUGH 


LITE 


CLOWNING 


it’s snow!” I had ^already discovered that, but I 
hated to mention it aloud. 

We were the only passengers in the buckboard, a 
lot of mail, baggage and express matter being 
heaped in the seats behind us. Most of the rush to 
Leadville at that time was going in via Denver and 
Fairplayj but even at that, it was an unusually 
light trip for our stage. Our driver, a rather 
grumpy-appearing old chap named Morgan, 
hadn’t spoken a word to us since we started save 
when we asked him a question. Well swathed in a 
big overcoat, he hunched forward and gave all his 
attention to the horses. His legs were covered by a 
buffalo robe, and there was a big pile of the furs 
alongside his feet. Finally one of us called to him, 
“Mister, can’t we have some of those buffalo 
robes back here? It’s getting awful cold!” 

A growl was the only answer we got, and we took 
it to mean “No!” We were angry for a few mo- 
ments; then we decided to put a cheerful face 
on the situation, and we began singing. Jim led 
with his clear, sweet tenor and I sang alto. In that 
still, rare mountain air, our voices seemed to carry 
for miles. We sang one or two popular airs and 
then started a medley of our own, which opened 
up with “The Old Oaken Bucket” and passed 
thence into bits of old Negro melodies and other 
hits of long ago. We had sung this one almost all 
.120 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the way through when Morgan suddenly yelled 
“Whoa!” and reined up his horses so abruptly that 
we were almost thrown out of our seats. I thought 
for a moment he was going to murder us because 
of the noise we were making. Instead, he began 
jerking buffalo robes back to us. In rapid succes- 
sion he passed us four. Then turning his head only 
slightly, he grumbled a sort of apology over his 
shoulder. 

“I talked kinder short to you fellers a while 
ago,” he admitted. “I git so pestered with these 
blasted tenderfeet cornin’ up here, a-askin’ fool 
questions and wantin’ ever-thing they can’t git thal 
it drives me plumb loco. But I guess you boys are 
all right.” And then as he clucked to his horses 
again, “Sing some more.” 

And we did. Snuggled down inside that warm 
fur, we sang for him all the way into Leadville. 
Morgan was a warm partisan of ours thereafter, 
and often came to see us perform. When we 
reached Leadville under a lowering sky, there were 
tiny flakes of snow in the air. The first thing Jim 
and I did was to hustle around and get some winter 
clothes. 

Less than a year before our arrival, there was no 
post office at Leadville. In fact, up to January, ’78, 
the place hadn’t even a name. What little mail 
came for the small group of prospectors who had 

121 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

been scratching around the site and getting out a 
few grains of gold for several years, went to two 
neighboring hamlets, Oro and Malta. Then it was 
discovered that black sand and rock which they 
had been throwing aside as worthless and a 
nuisance, contained silver and lead. In the fall of 
’77 it was supposed that there might be 300 people 
there — but the boom was beginning. In January 
’78, a mass meeting of citizens selected the name, 
“Leadville.” When we arrived in the following 
September, I suppose the town may have had five 
thousand population or perhaps ten — it was grow- 
ing so fast that it was impossible for me to make a 
close guess. Building lots that had been sold for 
$25 in the spring were now being held at $1,500 
to $2,000. 

It was the greatest pandemonium and hurly- 
burly that I had ever gotten into. The town was 
then built almost entirely on one street, Chestnut, 
about a mile in length, in a ravine among the hills. 
Hordes of people were rolling in every day, and 
there were not roofs enough to shelter them, nor 
beds for them to sleep in. Even in that cold 
weather, many were living in tents. Shacks were 
being knocked together as fast as they could get 
material, but still they couldn’t catch up. The 
freighting wagons were bringing glass, shingles, 
hardware, nails, stoves, stove pipe and other neces- 
122 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

sities daily, but they couldn’t bring them fast 
enough. Chestnut Street was a babel — a tangle of 
human beings on foot, carrying furniture, bedding, 
window frames, tools and everything imaginable, 
and of six- and eight-mule team wagons, drivers 
yelling and cracking big bull whips like pistol 
shots, hauling out ore ($3,500,000 worth that year 
and $10,000,000 the following year) and bringing 
back building material, food and supplies. 

Even the gambling houses couldn’t keep up with 
the demand. They were gambling in tents and even 
in the open alongside the sidewalk. You could get 
any sort of bet, from five-ceht chuckaluck up to a 
five-thousand-dollar poker pot. The shows were 
broader than anything I had yet seen. Vice was 
naked and unashamed. Robbery and thievery were 
of daily occurrence, and confidence men were 
swindling the tenderfeet right and left. In many 
ways Leadville made Dodge City look like a Sun- 
day school. 

Thompson and I were engaged to work at the 
“Grand Central,” a dance and gambling hall then 
owned by Tom Kemp; later by Billy Tuttle. It 
was a bit rough, but the pickings were good. Many 
of the miners had funds in plenty and did not hesi- 
tate to shower coin on the stage when an act ap- 
pealed to them — ^no chicken feed, either, for at 
Leadville as at other places in the West, the small- 

123 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

est coin in circulation was a quarter. Everybody 
was living extravagantly. The deuce of it was that 
I caught the fever and lived extravagantly, too. 

When Jim and I set out to find a room or rooms 
after our arrival, the task seemed well-nigh hope- 
less. We found that two or three of the other actors 
were bunking backstage in the hall, and as there 
seemed nothing else to do and it didn’t cost us any- 
thing, we slept there, too. Even then we had con- 
siderable trouble in getting hold of a couple of 
small, straw-filled ticks and a blanket apiece. We 
didn’t try to get beds, but just slept on the floor. 
This continued until a certain event happened 
which rather changed the course of things for me. 

We had been at Leadville several weeks when it 
was announced that that charming pair of singing 
stars, the Howland Sisters, would appear at a con- 
cert hall up the street. I was of course not totally 
unaware that they were coming. They arrived — 
bringing their mother with them, as usual — and 
made a decided, hit. I hadn’t seen Rose for nearly 
a year, and I noted with proprietorial pride that 
she was — as I had expected — developing into a 
beautiful woman. Her sister sang soprano, while 
Rose’s voice was a rich, velvety contralto. Rose had 
high artistic ability also, and in my opinion, if she 
had been given time, might have made a name on 
the stage which would be widely remembered yet. 
124 



clowning through life 

We had some good times together after they ar- 
rived. Frequently late in the winter, Jim and I took 
the three ladies to supper at the Tontine, the “fash- 
ionable” restaurant which had just been opened. 
Rose and I were very much in love. We were now 
making what we regarded as pretty good incomes 
(my salary alone was twenty-five dollars a week!) 
and we agreed that with our unusual ability, we 
would undoubtedly be earning much more within 
a short time. Why delay? There seemed to be no 
logical answer save one; so one morning we met 
at a certain street corner and went around to a 
minister’s house — for a few rough little frame 
churches had sprung up in Leadville and were 
doing their best against the powers of evil — and 
were married. 

That wedding was played up as a sensation by 
the concert hall managers and the local newspaper. 
A theatrical romance! First theatrical wedding in 
Leadville! But the public sensation was mild as 
compared with the one in the Howland family. 
Rose’s mother and sister couldn’t have failed to see 
the trend of things, but still they’d been hoping that 
the worst wouldn’t happen. It meant of course 
the break-up of the Howland Sisters team in the 
near future ; for Rose and I had no mind to pursue 
our careers apart. We assured the folks, however, 
that the Sisters might stick together at least until 

125 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


either Mr. or Mrs. Foy was through at Leadville. 

Of course I couldn’t ask my wife to bunk on a 
straw mattress on the floor backstage in a smelly 
concert-hall ; so she remained with her mother and 
sister for a day or two while I searched high and 
low for a room ; and finally found one just being 
yacated in a private home. It was bare and primi- 
tive and draughty, but you could scarcely get any 
other kind in Leadville that winter, and we were 
just as happy as if we had been in the Palmer 
House in Chicago. We were very young, and that 
rare, zippy mountain atmosphere at ten thousand 
feet above sea level put plenty of joy and kick 
into life. 

In a cafe one day late in the winter I was intro- 
duced to a middle-aged man, elegantly dressed, 
with large, kindly eyes and one of those long, weep- 
ing-willow mustaches. “This is our leading citizen, 
Mr. Tabor,” said the introducer. 

I had already seen him often. It was Horace A. 
W. Tabor, the story of whose spectacular career 
matches any romance ever written. Born in Ver- 
mont, he had pioneered in Kansas, and though he 
had little education, he had served in the Kansas 
Legislature in the middle ’50’s. Thence he moved 
to Colorado about 1859. Early in 1877 he was keep- 
ing the post office and store at the little village of 
Oro. That year — as storekeepers often did — he 
126 



c L O W N I N g_ THROUGH LIFE 

grubstaked two exceedingly hard-up prospectors. 
Those two men found the Little Pittsburgh mine, 
one of the richest of Leadville’s bonanzas. Tabor’s 
share in that strike was the foundation of his for- 
tune. Thereafter, everything he touched seemed to 
turn to — ^well, not gold ; not in Leadville ! Rather 
to silver. When I met him he had passed the 
million mark, was wearing $600 nightshirts and 
had a daughter whom he had christened Silver 
Dollar, but he hadn’t become the insufiferable snob 
that might have been expected. He was popular 
because he was still genial among ordinary folks 
and hadn’t forgotten how recently he was a small 
potato himself. The open-handed generosity which 
distinguished him when he was a Kansas pioneer 
and a small mountain storekeeper continued after 
he became a millionaire. 

That year he built the Tabor Opera House in 
Leadville, seating somewhat over 800 and claimed 
to be “the finest theatre west of the Missouri 
River.” He had an elegant suite of apartments pn 
an upper floor of this building for himself, and he 
also erected a handsome home in Denver. He began 
building a business block and opera house in 
Denver. By the end of the year he was being called 
“Leadville’s Ten-Millionaire.” He was Mayor of 
Leadville when I met him ; in the following year 
they made him Lieutenant-Governor of the State, 

127 



THROUGH .LIFE 


CLOWNING 

and he had begun dabbling in railroad and dock 
properties as far away as Chicago. For just one 
month early in 1883 he served as United States 
Senator to complete the term of Senator Teller, 
who had resigned. 

There were many amusing anecdotes told of 
Tabor. He, like myself, was one of the sort genially 
referred to in those days as a “strictly self-made 
man.” When his new opera house in Denver was 
receiving its interior decorations, he came in one 
day and found a sculptor modelling a plaster bust 
in low relief on the wall. 

“Who’s that?” he demanded. 

“That’s Shakespeare,” replied the artist. 

“Shakespeare!” echoed Tabor. “What the hell 
did he ever do for Colorado?” 

When the opera house was completed, the citi- 
zens gave a banquet to Mr. Tabor, and in his prin- 
, cipal speech the toastmaster suggested that it would 
be highly fitting for a portrait of the great man and 
his daughter to adorn the lobby of the theatre. 
Tabor genially responded that the same thought 
had occurred to him, but that he had not put it into 
execution because he did not want the work 
botched by any of these inexperienced American 
artists. He and Silver Dollar expected to visit 
Europe soon, and while there they would have the 
portrait painted by one of the Old Masters 1 
128 




From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Ne^wspaper 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Another incident which particularly appealed 
to me because of the Shakespearean reference con- 
cerned a time when Tabor was doing some political 
campaigning around Colorado with one of the 
State’s noted spellbinders. One evening at the close 
of a flowery address the orator alluded to a debate 
scheduled for the following evening in the classical 
words, “To-morrow night we meet the enemy at 
Phillippi!” Tabor immediately rose in his place in 
the audience and said, “Judge, you are mistaken; 
it is at Montrose Junction.” 

Tabor enjoyed his great wealth scarcely fifteen 
years. His fall was as sudden as his rise. His fortune 
was swept away in the panic of 1893. He was glad 
to obtain a position as postmaster of Denver, and 
died a few years later, a comparatively poor man. 

Thompson and I left Leadville just at the begin- 
ning of spring and headed for Canyon City, where 
we hoped to play an engagement of several weeks 
before returning to Dodge. Rose’s mother and 
sister went back East. As the railroad was not yet 
completed — ^nor would it be for a year — ^we took 
the buckboard again over that picturesque road 
along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Ar- 
kansas. 

Our old friend Morgan was driving, and there 
were about seven or eight passengers, including 
another actor, a tumbler, who had just closed at 

129 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Leadville. It was a clear, brisk morning and we 
were chatting and laughing, all in high spirits. 
But as we spun around a curve in the narrow road, 
Morgan drove too close to the outer edge; the 
bank, weakened by a thaw, crumbled, the wheel 
dropped from the road and the buckboard turned 
over. 

Below the road was a slope which gradually 
became steeper and steeper until it was a precipice. 
The buckboard rolled completely over once and 
half-way again, dragging the frightened, strug- 
gling horses after it until two of them broke their 
harness and got away. Had it not been for a stump 
on which we lodged, we would have kept right on 
rolling, and a few yards farther we would have 
started falling perpendicularly a thousand feet or 
so to the bottom of the canyon. 

Well, after we had stopped with a jolt, we all 
crawled out — those of us who hadn’t been spilled 
out already — and nobody seemed to be seriously 
hurt, though the poor devil of a tumbler’s nose was 
mashed almost level with his face. Rose was laugh- 
ing and soon we all joined her. I admitted that my 
left shoulder had been sprained a bit, but even 
before the emergency stage arrived to haul us on to 
Canyon City, I knew that something more serious 
had happened. When a doctor examined me, he 
130 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

found that my collar bone was broken, as well as 
the arm just below the shoulder. 

That was a most inconvenient happening for an 
acrobatic dancer. It was three weeks before I could 
work at all, and then I merely sang and danced 
without the gymnastics. A little later, when my arm 
was released from the sling, I was able to throw 
somersaults without touching 'my hands, but I 
couldn’t do flipflops for months afterwards. To this 
day my left arm is a little shorter than my right. 
Barlow, Sanderson & Company, the owners of the 
stage line — ^they had formerly operated the Over- 
land Stage across the plains — did what was re- 
garded as the handsome thing by me. They paid 
my expenses, added a hundred dollars in cash and 
gave me a lifetime pass over their lines. Inasmuch 
as the railroads soon drove their lines out of busi- 
ness, that pass has never been of much benefit to 
me. 

As soon as I was able, Jim and I opened at the 
concert hall at Canyon City, which was operated 
by a man named Milt Yawberry. Canyon City 
prided itself on being “citified” — ^much farther ad- 
vanced than a mere mining camp, and it was there- 
fore perfectly safe for Yawberry to wear a broad- 
cloth suit, velvet vest, frilled shirt front and white 
collar. In some towns these would have been un- 

131 



C L O V/ N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

gently taken away from him. In addition to these 
trappings he sported expensive Eastern-made boots 
and a long black mustache. 

But he was none too sweet a character. Our pay 
was always far in arrears; he claimed his place was 
losing money, which we didn’t believe, for we drew 
good crowds continuously save on the single day 
when Cole’s circus, the first ever seen in Canyon 
City, was in town and drew the entire population 
to its tent. When our engagement with Yawberry 
was nearly over — we were due in Dodge the fol- 
lowing week — ^we decided that he was going to 
stall us off until we had to leave town. 

“Something’s going to be done about this, 
Eddie,” said Jim to me one evening, “and done 
right away.” He didn’t explain his remark at the 
time, but before the evening was over, I found out 
what he meant. Another actor who was also a cred- 
itor of Yawberry’s for a considerable amount had 
discovered a barrel of fine old rye whisky in a 
place in the rear of the building where it could 
easily be stolen. He had taken Jim into his confi- 
dence, and while the evening performance was on 
they rolled the barrel out the back way and sold it 
for enough to come very near settling up what 
Yawberry owed us. 

Yawberry suspected that some of the actors were 
the culprits. He questioned me closely, pulling his 
132 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

long mustache and boring into me with his cold, 
steely eyes. I assured him that I knew no more 
about the affair than a babe unborn. 

“But what about that partner of yours?” he 
would ask. 

“Who? Thompson?” I was astounded. “Why, 
Mr. Yawberry, Jim Thompson would never do 
anything like that. Tve known that boy for years, 
and he’s absolutely straight. I’d as soon suspect 
President Hayes of stealing whisky as Jim.” 

“Huh!” grunted Yawberry with evident skepti- 
cism, and turned away. As I look back on it now, 
I am amazed at the nerve displayed by Thompson 
and the other fellow in daring to pull such a trick 
on a man of his type. He had killed one or two men 
already, and he was not the sort that would hesitate 
to take direct and violent action whenever it suited 
his mood to do so. He killed another man in Santa 
Fe a few years later, and a jury decided that there 
was something criminal about the affair, so they 
hung him. Yawberry had always rather fancied 
himself as a violinist; and to prove that his nerve 
was unshaken, he called for his fiddle on the scaf- 
fold and played “Old Zip Coon” (now known as 
“Turkey in the Straw”) just before the drop was 
sprung. 


133 




XII 


We spent another pleasant and profitable sum- 
mer with our friends in Dodge City in 79. Some 
of the events I have already narrated occurred 
during that second season. In September we left 
again for Leadville, where this time we were 
engaged to work at the Theatre Comique, a higher- 
class concert hall than the one of the year before 
and minus the gambling feature. Thompson and I 
had our regular act — ^which, however, we labored 
to improve every year — and Rose did a single 
singing specialty. 

The boom at Leadville was now at its height. 
As California had its Forty-niners, so the Leadville 
Argonauts are spoken of in local history as Sev- 
enty-niners. The town had at least 20,000 popula- 
tion and was still growing like a mushroom. The 
demand for lodgings was still far greater than the 
supply and again we found much difficulty in get- 
ting located. A handsome new hotel, the Claren- 
don, had been built, but it was expensive and was 
always crowded. Incidentally, there was another 
vaudeville or concert hall, the Coliseum, and 
Tabor’s Opera House was completed that fall, but 

135 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

found it difficult to secure Eastern attractions. 

The turmoil in town seemed to have increased 
tenfold since the previous winter. Crime and vio- 
lence had reached such a pitch that it was unsafe 
to own anything valuable or to go on the streets late 
at night. Hold-ups were of almost nightly occur- 
rence, and often the victim wasn’t even asked to 
put up his hands, but was slugged from behind and 
sometimes killed. Robbers broke into people’s 
rooms and shot them or knocked them cold, right 
in their beds. We actors, when we left the theatre 
late at night, usually went home in crowds and as 
everybody else did, walked in the middle of the 
street. The man who didn’t “tote hardware” in 
self defense, if for no other reason, was a curiosity. 

Not only did burglary, sneak thievery, robbery 
and confidence games flourish, but claim-jumping 
and lot-jumping had brought the community almost 
to a state of civil war. Land titles seemed to be in 
an awful tangle, and disputes between the owners 
of placer, patents and men who claimed title by 
squatter right were being fought out or carried into 
the courts almost daily. Taking advantage of these 
tie-ups, there were desperadoes who seized many a 
piece of property and held it by force in defiance 
of both sides. These were often backed by crooked 
realtors who had paid witnesses ready to swear to 
anything necessary. City lots were actually grabbed 
136 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

by these gangs when houses were being erected on 
them, the workmen driven off the framework 
knocked down with axes and thrown into the street, 
and another shack hastily built with new lumber 
to become a stronghold for the toughs, all of whom 
were walking arsenals. A bunch of these fellows 
broke into a small dwelling one night, threw the 
owner into the street dressed only in his night- 
clothes, and held possession of the house and furni- 
ture. Sometimes they drove owners away by sur- 
rounding the house at night and pouring volleys 
through the windows. 

This general lawlessness finally drove the cit- 
izens to taking direct and illegal action, and Judge 
Lynch did a great deal more to correct conditions 
than the courts of justice had done. One Frodsham, 
the leader of the lot-jumping gangs, was finally 
arrested in the fall, but his trial was delayed, and 
at length a mob took him and a highwayman 
named Stewart out of jail one night and hung 
them. There were several other lynchings. 

It was there that I had my first view of a lynch- 
ing in the actual occurrence, and the picture was 
deeply impressed on my memory. While the show 
was going on one evening a man who had just come 
in from the street whispered to me that a mob was 
just about to take two robbers out of the jail and 
hang them. I was thrilled with curiosity to see such 



THROUGH 


LITE 


CLOWNING 


a mob in action, and as I had nothing to do on the 
program for an hour, I hurried out with the 
thoughtlessness of youth and ran down the street 
until I saw the crowd coming. There 'seemed to be 
no objection to my joining them, and when they 
rushed into a large empty warehouse or storeroom, 
I was swept along with them. There was no cere- 
mony, no last words, no delay. Nooses had been 
made in pieces of heavy, new rope, and ends were 
thrown over a‘ low beam, men seized them and 
hauled away, and the doomed victims were drawn, 
struggling and kicking, off the floor. 

But the worst of the affair is. yet to be told. A 
boy of no more than fourteen or fifteen years old 
had been captured with the robbers and was sus- 
pected of having some connection with them. Even 
so, his youth should have been allowed to plead for 
him ; but the leader of the mob, glancing at him 
with only momentary hesitation, said, “Bring that 
fellow along, too,” and he was dragged away with 
the others, screaming and protesting his innocence. 
His cries and pleadings for mercy, the sight of the 
rope around his neck, made me regret my urge to 
witness the affair and I would have given anything 
to get away, but I was wedged so tightly in the 
crowd that I could not escape. I could only shut 
my eyes and at least refuse to see any more. 

A few months later the leader of that mob was 
138 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

himself caught in some crime — I think it was rob- 
bery — and hanged; and I was not sorry to hear 
of it. 

One does a lot of idiotic things in youth. If I 
were offered a chance to see a lynching now, I’d 
hit the trail in the opposite direction as fast as 
I could move. In later years I witnessed a legal 
hanging in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, but 
only because the sheriff, a friend of mine, had lost 
his nerve and begged me to stay with him ; and as 
between the lynching and the legal execution, I 
give you my word that the one is but little more 
shocking to me than the other. I cannot believe 
that the average normal human being, if he were to 
see an execution with his own eyes, would ever 
thereafter cast a vote for capital punishment. 

But to speak of more pleasant things. We had 
some varied experiences at the Comique that 
winter. For example, there came to Leadville a 
man named Sullivan, who made his living by trav- 
elling about over the country, staging productions 
at concert halls of The Black Crook, the extrava- 
ganza which had created such a sensation in the 
East with its full-length tights ten years before. 
He had a few of the costumes which went with the 
show, and the rest were supplied by the local com- 
pany. The manager of the Comique signed up with 
him for a two- weeks’ production, and of course we 

139 , 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

actors, tumblers, coatortionists, and what not all 
had a part of some kind or other. The ballet — 
numbering about fifteen — consisted mostly of wait- 
resses and dance hall girls, tall and short, fat and 
lean, and the fit or rather the misfit of their tights 
was a sight to behold, though their dancing was 
perhaps even more startling. The “gorgeous, scin- 
tillating spectacle” seen in New York was a rather 
pale imitation in the mining camp honkytonks. 

It must have been considerable of a strain on 
Sullivan’s nerves to try to put over a show like that 
against all the obstacles with which he had to 
contend, and without having it so rotten that it 
would be hooted off the stage. He was near apo- 
plexy several times during the run at our house, 
and particularly on the first night or two. Our re- 
hearsals had necessarily been sketchy, of course, 
and many of the performers were not accustomed 
to playing dramatic parts. I played Rudolf, the 
hero of the piece, while Sullivan essayed the part 
of the heavy. On the first night there had already 
been several hitches and miscues when we reached 
the point where Sullivan and I were in dialogue. 
He was supposed to answer a speech of mine with 
“Well said, me lad, well said !” But I mistook my 
cue and cut in on him several phrases ahead of 
time. He swelled visibly and his face turned purple 
under his makeup. Finally he ejaculated, “Well 
140 



CLOWNING THROUGH 


LIFE 


said, me lad, but said too damn soon!” It got a big 
laugh from the audience, and I am convinced that 
most of them thought that line was in the script. 

Charles Vivian, the founder of the Elks, came to 
Leadville that winter and played at our theatre. 
Vivian was an English singing actor who came to 
America about the first of the year 1868. He had 
been a member of a little club of actors over in 
London called The Jolly Corks, and soon after he 
reached New York, being a likable, convivial fel- 
low, he organized a similar club among his new 
actor friends in that city. Very shortly afterwards 
the charter members changed the name of the club 
to the Elks. The organization became a prominent 
one and presently began to throw out branches, and 
so a great order was founded. 

Vivian was the first to play Sir Joseph Porter 
in Pinafore in this country. That was in 1878. Soon 
afterwards he started West with an opera organ- 
ization, but the company stranded at Denver, and 
Vivian and his wife were compelled to shift for 
themselves. Quite naturally the boom drew them 
to Leadville. Vivian’s first effort there was to be 
a producer on his own. He rented a hall and began 
presenting a sort of tabloid version of Oliver 
Twist, with his wife as Oliver, himself as the Art- 
ful Dodger, and eight or ten other parts presented 

with considerable doubling by about half that 

141 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

number of cheap “hams” or amateurs such as he 
could afford. When he and his wife arrived in 
Leadville they encountered the usual difficulty in 
finding a place to sleep, and I suggested that until 
he could find a room, Mrs. Vivian might stay with 
Rose, while he and I bunked on the concert hall 
stage, as I had done the previous winter. So again 
we procured the little straw mattresses and he and 
I spent several nights there. 

But although he put plenty of blood and villainy 
into his show, the miners didn’t take to it, and he 
was compelled to close after a short run, with con- 
siderable financial loss. He then went into the con- 
cert halls and did well, for he was an excellent 
monologist and singer and could give a whole 
program single-handed. His favorite song, the one 
by which he is best remembered by the old-timers, 
was “Ten Thousand Miles Away.” 

Later in the winter pneumonia raged in the 
town in what seemed to be almost epidemic form, 
and poor Vivian contracted the disease and died 
of it. With all her modern improvements, Lead- 
ville had not yet acquired a hearse; she was too 
busy with the living to give any thought to the 
dead. So Vivian’s casket was hauled to the raw, 
ugly little cemetery just outside of town in an 
ordinary express wagon. The concert halls put on 
a big benefit performance for his wife, in which 
142 




Charles Vivian, Founder of the Elks 




CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


we all took part. Several hundred dollars were 
raised, with which she went back East and may- 
have gone to England ; I never heard of her again. 
Vivian lay in the cemetery at Leadville for two 
years, his grave marked — like many others — only 
with the piece of plank on which his name was 
scrawled. Then the Elks’ lodges, which were be- 
coming numerous throughout the country, became 
cognizant of the matter, and they removed his 
body to Boston, where it was placed under a hand- 
some monument. 

We closed our second season at Leadville in the 
spring of 1880 and followed it up with short en- 
gagements at Georgetown and Golden, then hope- 
ful little mining camps. At Georgetown I asked 
the proprietor of the concert hall who he had on 
the bill, and he told me with some pride that 
among other stars, William Devere and his wife, 
Ella Arnold, were booked. Devere, widely known 
in the profession as Big Bill, was a unique char- 
acter. He had a great, beefy, powerful body, and 
was a bad man to stir up. He had travelled for a 
while with John Robinson’s Circus, doing a turn 
in the concert. At some little town down in Texas, 
the audience tried to clean out the show, and in the 
“Hey, Rube” battle which followed, Devere, 
swinging no other weapon than a steel-rimmed 
banjo, killed two cowboys with it. 


143 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

The Deveres reached Georgetown that day in 
rather unusual fashion for actors ; they came riding 
on burros over the rough, snowy roads across the 
mountains from Fairplay, and with no other bag- 
gage than a very small bag apiece. Evidently they 
were about down to hard pan. They had stopped 
overnight at a hospitable cabin on the way, but 
were about tuckered out when they reached 
Georgetown. 

The manager asked Devere a bit uneasily about 
their wardrobe. “Oh, that’s all right,” said Bill. 
“We’ve got it — plenty of it.” No one could guess 
where. 

That night in the Grand Minstrel Opening, 
Devere was to be Interlocutor — ^which of course 
called for evening dress — ^while I was on the end, 
wearing one of my comic minstrel costumes. Jim 
and I had by that time built up a pretty fine ward- 
robe. I didn’t see Devere that evening until just as 
we took our places on the stage. Then my eyes 
popped with astonishment. He had borrowed or 
stolen a dress coat from someone smaller than him- 
self — for men as large as he were not common. He 
seemed about to burst out of it at the back and 
shoulders, and the sleeves covered his arms to a 
point about half way between his elbows and his 
wrists. He wore a false shirt-front cut out of card- 
board. I did not recognize my dress vest, but he 
144 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

had it on. He had sneaked it out of my trunk, split 
it up the back seam and pinned the two halves to 
his shirt. He had filched a pair of trousers from 
somebody else, and was bursting the buttons off 
them. When it became necessary for me to wear my 
vest later in the evening, Rose had to fasten it up 
the back with safety pins. Mad? Of course I was! 
But what good did it do? Every time I looked at 
Devere and clenched my fists, I thought of those 
two cowboys down in Texas. 


145 




XIII 


Denver at that time was a flourishing young 
frontier city of thirty or thirty-five thousand popu- 
lation (though of course claiming more), and 
Thompson and I, seeking new and more metro- 
politan fields, decided to try for an engagment 
there after we left Golden. We found the pro- 
grams full at the established concert halls, but we 
learned that a man named Chase was opening a 
new house, and we looked him up. 

“Yes, I’m starting a concert hall and sporting 
resort,” said he. “What salary do you want?” 

“We’ll start at twenty-five a week apiece,” said 
I. “That is including my wife, who works single. 
You know about us, I guess.” 

“Sure I know about you,” he replied. “I’ve seen 
you all in Leadville, and I’d like to have you. But 
I’ll be frank with you. I’ve got just four hundred 
dollars capital. If my place is a go. I’ll pay you. 
If I lose, I won’t. Are you willing to gamble with 
me?” 

There was something likable about his frank- 
ness. Jim and I looked at each other. I drew a 
quarter from my pocket and held it between thumb 

147 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


and finger. “Heads!” said Jim. I spun it in the air, 
caught it between the palms and lifted one hand. 
It was heads. 

“Yes, we’ll take a chance with you,” said I ; and 
by the way, we didn’t regret it. Chase’s establish- 
ment made money from the start, and he was al- 
ways on the square with us. I am sorry I cannot 
speak as favorably for his gambling room— which 
of course was what he meant by “sporting resort” ; 
that was the elegant term for it in those days. 
There were fifty-two games of chance in his place, 
and a sucker couldn’t win a dollar at any of them. 
Chase in later years started a lottery and made a- 
fortune. 

His resort was at Fifteenth and Blake Streets, 
and consisted of two large upstairs rooms, con- 
nected by doors cut through the intervening wall. 
The concert hall, which he called “The Palace,” 
was over a feed store, and the gambling games 
were in the adjoining room. In the concert hall 
the second and third stories had been thrown to- 
gether, which gave a higher ceiling and allowed 
for the inevitable horseshoe tier of upstairs boxes. 
Just a block away was the little stream called 
Cherry Creek, which was the terror of Denver in 
those days. Every spring when the snow melted in 
the mountains, it ran wild, tore away all the 
bridges over it and spread over several blocks of 
148 



a L O W N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

territory. In the last days of our stay — for we were 
in Denver the better part of a year — the creek got 
so high that it touched the first story of our build- 
ing and threatened to stop our business, but at that 
point consented to recede. 

Denver prided itself on being one of the snap- 
piest and most up to date cities in the country. 
Several years before, when it was a mere mining 
camp, it had gained renown as the place where a 
man committed a murder, was arrested, legally 
tried by jury, condemned and executed, all on the 
same day. Now it was adopting all the modern im- 
provements as fast as they came out. It was there 
that I saw my first incandescent electric light, there 
that I first saw and used the telephone, both having 
been installed in the city just that year of my ar- 
rival. The telephone as a practical instrument was 
'scarcely three years old, and the electric light had 
just been invented by Edison, Denver being, I be- 
lieve, among the first half dozen cities in the coun- 
try to put it into use. The five-story Tabor Block 
was just being completed upon my arrival, and for 
years afterward was the pride of the city. One of 
its features most often spoken of was the elevator 
to lift you to the upper floors — not a swift electric 
elevator like those of today, but one which oper- 
ated at a snail’s pace and was operated by pulling 
on a cable. Thousands of people visited the build- 

149 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


ing just to ride on that elevator. If I remember 
rightly, I was one of them. 

Our friend Big Bill Devere appeared in Denver 
that summer and fall, and distinguished himself 
by taking in the town one night in a hack, winding 
up about daybreak by stealing the hackman’s over- 
coat. How this could happen I don’t know, unless 
the hackman was drunker than he was. Anyhow, 
the Jehu had him arrested, and when I heard of it, 
I went around to court to see what happened. 

They had a judge in Denver in those days who 
was a scourge to those whose feet strayed even 
momentarily from the path of virtue. From what 
I’ve heard of that judge in Richmond who was the 
original of Walter Kelly’s “Virginia Judge,” he 
must have been a genial philanthropist as com- 
pared with the Colorado terror. It was an axiom 
in Denver that if you came up before Judge 

W j you were inevitably doomed to lose money 

or break rock, and usually both. He’d said “A hun- 
dred dollars and six months” so often that he mut- 
tered it in his sleep. 

It was into this stern tribunal that Bill Devere 
was brought for trial. The court at that time was 
being held for some reason in a vacant storeroom. 
The audience was composed largely of miners, 
teamsters and such odds and ends of Denver 
humanity as had nothing else to do at the moment. 
150 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

The grist was small that morning, and as the 
complaining hackman had been delayed in reach- 
ing the court, Bill’s case was put last on the docket. 
Even then the chief witness hadn’t put in an ap- 
pearance, but a policeman assured the Court that 
he would be here at any moment now, so the judge, 
unwilling to let any prisoner go for mere lack of 
evidence, agreed to wait for him, and began glanc- 
ing over the morning paper. 

It was then that Bill Devere arose and said 
very deferentially, even humbly, “Your Honor, 
while we are waiting, may I beguile the time for 
the audience by reciting a few lines of poetry?” 

The judge, startled, peered sourly over his 
glasses at Bill. Plainly he -didn’t know what to 
make of the request. But there was evidently in his 
mind some secret curiosity to see what Devere 
might be going to do, perhaps a secret readiness 
for a little diversion, for after a calculating 
scrutiny of the culprit, he snapped, “All right; go 
ahead!” 

At that. Bill began in a voice that quivered with 
emotion : 

“Over the hill to the poorhouse I’m trudgin’ my weary 
way — 

I, a woman of seventy and only a trifle gray — ” 

' — ^And thence he recited the poem through with 
a pathos which he knew would simply melt his 

151 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


audience to a soft paste. He had pulled out the 
tremolo stop to its full length, and put a sob into 
every line ; and how it did work on them 1 When he 
faltered through the last stanza— 

“Over the hill to the poorhouse, my childem dear, good- 
bye! 

Many a night I’ve watched you when only God was 
nigh—” 

— Every roughneck in the room was weeping 
copiously. Thence Bill switched into the sequel, 
“Over the Hill from the Poorhouse,” in which the 
reprobate son comes back from the West and 
rescues his mother from the poor farm, whither 
her hypocritical, well-to-do children had shunted 
her. He put a sly significance into the lines — 

fiery nags was black as coal; 

(They some’at resembled the horse I stole^’^ — < 

— And when he straightened up and with beati- 
fied countenance spoke the last few lines in a clear, 
ringing voice — 

“But I’ve learned one thing; an’ it cheers a man 
In always doin’ the best he can; 

That whether on the Big Book, a blot 
Gets over a fellow’s name or not, 

Whenever he does a deed that’s white, 

It’s credited to him fair and right. 

An’ when you hear the great bugle’s notes, 

An’ the Lord divides his sheep an’ goats; 

However they may settle my case, 

, Wherever they may fix my place, 

My good old Christian mother, you’ll see, 

Will be sure to stand right up for me.” — 


152 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

— Every male in the courtroom felt himself up- 
lifted and firmly resolved to lead a better life. 

For a moment after Bill closed, there v?as 
silence, broken only by the snuffiing and blowing 
of noses from the numerous repentant sinners. 
Then the judge suddenly slammed his newspaper 
down on his desk and barked, “What the hell’s this 
case about? Where’s the complainant?” 

“Well, the complainant ain’t here yet, your 
Honor,” a policeman began, hesitatingly. 

“Why ain’t he here? Defendant dismissed!” 
roared the judge. “We can’t set around here all 
day, waitin’ for him.” 

Within five minutes I saw Devere sitting on the 
bench beside the judge, swapping yarns with him ; 
and the next thing I heard was that they had been 
drunk together for three solid days. Such are the 
occasional rewards of Art. 

Our stay in Denver was noteworthy also because 
it was there that my partner Thompson was mar- 
ried, his bride being an actress named Millie 
Thomas. The four of us thereafter formed a very 
congenial quartet and had many jolly hours to- 
gether. 

There were some stirring times in Denver in the 
fall of 1880. Readers who remember those days 
will recall that there was a strong anti-Chinese 
agitation throughout the country in the latter Sev- 

153 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


enties, particularly in the West, where the Chinese 
had been settling in considerable numbers for sev- 
eral years, and where they were giving the white 
laboring man no little worry because of their will- 
ingness to work for a few cents a day. Chinese 
coolies had done much of the heavy work of build- 
ing the Central Pacific Railroad over the Sierras 
in the latter Sixties, and Chinese had picked up 
some small fortunes around mining camps by 
working over the “tailings” or refuse heaps which 
the white miners considered beneath their notice. 
In 1877 Dennis Kearney began his “Sand Lot” 
agitation against the yellow men in San Fran- 
cisco, ending every fiery speech with the words, 
“The Chinese must go!” which became a slogan 
throughout the West. 

The matter was even dragged into the Presiden- 
tial campaign of 1880 when the fake “Morey 
letter” represented Garfield as advocating the con- 
tinued importation of Chinese labor by this coun- 
try. This letter was the cause of many rows and 
knockdowns in Denver before it was finally proven 
to be a forgery. 

There were over two hundred Chinese in Den- 
ver, many of them engaged in the favorite Celestial 
occupation of washing clothes, while others did 
common labor. The town’s problem did not appear 
to be a very grave one, but many citizens were 
15 + 




Rose Howi^and, the First Mrs. Foy 




CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

much exercised over it. On Saturday, October 
30th, there was a big political parade in which 
many of the banners and transparencies referred 
to the question. “No Chinese Cheap Labor” and 
“The Chinese Must Go” were two of the favorite 
sentiments. To some workingmen as well as to 
many who studiously avoided work, the Chinese 
question was more important than the Presidential 
race. 

On Sunday about noon a clash occurred in the 
slum district between a Chinaman and a white 
man. There were two or three versions of it given 
afterwards. One was that a white man had refused 
to pay a Chinaman for his laundry work, and in 
the row which followed the Mongolian took a 
shot at his customer. The other was that some 
roughs had interfered with two Chinese who were 
playing a game of pool, that one Chinaman had 
been bashed over the head with a cue and had 
thereupon fired at his assailant. Anyhow, the white 
man wasn’t even wounded; but a rumor quickly 
spread over the city that a Caucasian gentleman 
had been assassinated by a Chink, and riot soon 
broke loose. 

At first the mob did little but tear down Chinese 
laundry signs and smash their windows ; but soon 
it became more infuriated, and began tearing 
down the buildings themselves and hunting the 

155 



QLOW, NING THROUGH LIFE 

yellow men with intent to kill. A fellow actor of 
mine at the Palace was one of the leaders in this 
work. The city police were so few that they could 
do nothing whatsoever with the crowd. The fire 
department turned the hose on the mob at Six- 
teenth and Wazee Streets, but the hose was soon 
cut and the fire company overwhelmed and driven 
off. 

As usual, I was hovering on the outskirts, watch- 
ing the proceedings, much to my wife’s alarm. The 
disorders continued throughout the afternoon, and 
until far into the night. It was astounding how 
deftly the Chinese escaped from the city or hid 
themselves in cellars or other nooks and corners, 
often being concealed by sympathizing white 
people. Jim Moon, keeper of a gambling house, 
gave refuge to four or five of them in the very face 
of the mob, slammed and barricaded his doors, and 
standing guard, assisted by only two or three em- 
ployes with shotguns, defied the rioters to do their 

worst ^which, by the way, they didn’t do. A few 

weeks later Moon was murdered in a restaurant 
while I was standing just outside the door, talking 
to a friend. 

Several Chinese were badly beaten, but only one 
was killed. A great uproar was going on in Seven- 
teenth Street directly in front of the Markham 
Hotel when I stopped to look on. I saw a man 
156 



CLOWNING. THROUGH LIFE 


climb a telegraph pole and throw a rope over a 
cross-arm. The crowd below began to pull, and 
quickly a body rose in the air, clad in a flapping 
black silk shirt and white trousers. It was an old, 
old Chinaman, seventy or eighty years of age — the 
only one who gave his life on that turbulent day. 

During the night an ex-sheriff, a man of great 
influence, was called to the aid of the city, and or- 
ganized a posse of one hundred to keep order. 
There was much fear that Tuesday, which was the 
first of November and National election day, 
would be the occasion for more outbreaks, but the 
town was so well policed by that time that there 
was no more trouble. 

On election night meagre telegraphic reports 
were received from time to time and read at our 
place, but there was little “sitting up to hear the 
returns” in those days, because so many States were 
still largely rural that the returns came in very 
slowly. Furthermore, Garfield and Hancock 
divided the popular vote pretty evenly that year, 
and two or three days passed before we Democrats 
would admit that Garfield had been elected. 

We left Denver early in 1881, having received 
an order from the Adelphi variety theatre in San 
Francisco — ^which indicated that our reputation 
was spreading pretty widely over the West. We 
were delighted at the prospect of a season in 

157 



THROUGH LIFE 


CLOWNING 

Frisco, the gay, gilded metropolis of the Golden 
State, the city which everyone longed to see at least 
once in his life. But just before making our engage- 
ment there, we had received a call from another 
and a rather famous little town; famous partly 
because of its name, which alone was sufficient to 
give it a grisly reputation — ^Tombstone, Arizona. 
So on leaving Denver, we went down to Tomb- 
stone and played an engagement of four weeks be- 
fore going on to San Francisco. 

Tombstone was a silver mining camp, and had 
the reputation, though I don’t know how just it 
was, of being one of the most wide-open towns in 
the West. As far as my own opinion is of any value, 
I cannot say that I found things any more free and 
easy there than at Leadville in its earlier days or 
at Butte later on. It was a rather wild-eyed little 
town, I must admit, though so much like other 
mining camps that the things I remember best 
about it are its climate and surroundings — ^heat, 
desert, dust, cactus, the sun always glaring from a 
clear sky and in all directions those distant, jagged 
blue mountains on the horizon — rough in outline, 
but the only restful, beautiful things in sight. 

The name of the town is said to have been sug- 
gested by a remark made to a prospector who was 
just starting for that vicinity, and who remarked 
158 



c L O W. N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

to a friend that he believed he would find gold- 
bearing ore there. The Apaches were very active 
in those parts at the time, which led the friend to 
retort, “You are more likely to find your tomb- 
stone!” From that time on, funereal names were 
much in favor thereabouts. The first claim located 
at the spot was named the Graveyard, and the lead- 
ing newspaper of the town at the time of our visit 
was the Epitaph. 

Our engagement was at a concert hall known as 
the Bird Cage Varieties; why they didn’t call it 
the Coffin I don’t know. We seemed to make good, 
and could have stayed longer. Incidentally, let me 
say that I was never shot at nor made the target 
for eggs or cabbage by dissatisfied patrons in those 
mining camp honkytonks, nor did I ever see an- 
other actor suffer such indignity. It is true that the 
audience sometimes expressed its approval or dis- 
approval rather emphatically, but I never saw any 
violence offered save by some fellow who was 
drunk and irresponsible. 

It is startling to me now to think of the friend- 
ships which I, a generally peaceable man, acquired 
as an actor among western gunfighters, gamblers, 
miners, desperado hunters and others more or less 
hard-boiled, some of them with cold steel nerves, 
granite hearted, ready to kill upon a moment’s 

159 



CiOFA'/iVG THROUGH LIFE 

oifense or suspicion. The stage had a glamor and a 
fascination for all of them. Some few of them, I 
think, had a sort of vague idea that a comedian was 
a devilish jolly, care-free, irresponsible fellow 
whose private life was as merry as his stage antics, 
who never meant anybody any harm, never meant 
seriously anything he said, and was not to be held 
to strict accountability. Some liked me because I 
made them laugh and forget for a few moments 
the strain and ugliness of their lives. A few, like 
Bat Masterson, came near, I think, to knowing me 
as I really was. 

There was a man named Rudebaugh, for ex- 
ample, who ran a gambling house in Tombstone, 
and who was an ardent admirer of mine. He was 
at the Bird Cage one evening, laughing at our 
songs and jokes, when word was brought to him 
that a man named Kelly, a suspected cattle rustler 
and general bad egg, was in his place down the 
street with several drinks aboard, and was making 
trouble for his faro dealer. Rudebaugh promptly 
left the show and hurried down to his resort. En- 
tering quietly, he strolled over to the faro game, 
and after looking on for a moment, said to the 
youthful dealer in a casual way, “I’ll deal for a 
while, Harry. You go over and start that hier- 
onymous game.” 

160 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

He sat down and began drawing out the cards. 
Kelly was losing consistently ; possibly he lost even 
more rapidly after Rudebaugh assumed the deal. 
He cursed his luck, the house, and the faro box in 
turn. Finally there were only three cards left in 
the box. Leaning forward and shaking his finger 
at Rudebaugh with his half-drunken solemnity, 
Kelly said, “Listen, old Frozen-face, if you make 
one crooked motion on them last three cards. I’ll 
blow your head off I” 

That was the final insult. Rudebaugh had his 
answer ready. Like the dart of a ray of light, he 
whipped out his huge pistol and shot Kelly square- 
ly through the forehead, spattering his brains on 
the wall behind him. Then sheathing his gun, he 
stepped around the table, picked up the body of 
the bad man, and while the startled crowd looked 
on in an awed, tense silence, he carried it out 
through the front door and heaved it clean over 
the horse-trough into, the street. Returning, he 
stopped just inside the door, and looking around, 
remarked in an even tone to the assemblage in 
general : 

“I’ll keep order here, even if the place don’t 
make a cent !” 

That was his only apology for or explanation 
of the incident, and so far as I know, none other 

161 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

was ever demanded of him. As far as Tombstone 
was concerned, the demise of Kelly meant a good 
riddance. But think of having the friendship of 
such a man! It seemed to me to have somewhat 
the aspect of getting chummy with a healthy, 
vigorous, partly tamed tiger. 


162 



XIV 


San Francisco! The bizarre, the care-free, the 
city of all nations, the richest, merriest city on the 
continent, the nearest to a true Bohemia that 
America has ever seen. The devil-may-care jollity 
of the old mining camps still pervaded its atmos- 
phere, which was colored on the other hand by the 
attempts of its new-made but already swollen 
plutocrats to ape — ^yes, to surpass the splendors of 
New York, of Paris, even of ancient Rome. Over 
at Virginia City the Comstock was still pouring 
out its millions, though in slightly lessening de- 
gree, and San Francisco was its great financial 
headquarters. The city swarmed with gold mil- 
lionaires, silver millionaires, Pacific Railroad mil- 
lionaires, millionaires made by sugar and goodness 
knows what not. You couldn’t have tossed a stone 
into the gorgeous lobby of the great Palace Hotel 
without hitting at least two or three of them. Nob 
Hill was covered with their residences, with the 
enormous medieval castle of Mark Hopkins tower- 
ing over them all. Any day a man who knew them 
could point out to you on the street Mackay, Fair, 
Flood, Sharon, Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, 

163 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

one of the Crockers, Spreckels or Sutro. Already 
snobbery was arising in San Francisco. With some 
folks it was coming to be a test of your social status 
to know whether you came from north or south of 
the slot — meaning the cable line on Market Street. 
North of it was aristocracy; south of it the rab- 
ble. But the majority in Frisco cared nothing for 
that. In spirit they were still the jolly old Bohe- 
mian crowd of the mining camps. 

The millionaires set the standard of living, how- 
ever, and all of us tried to come up to it. In spite 
of the fact that food could be bought in San Fran- 
cisco as cheaply as anywhere on the continent, 
most people contrived to live extravagantly. You 
could go to Italian restaurants like Campi’s on 
Clay Street, whose history ran back to the golden 
days of ’49, and get an excellent table d’hote dinner 
with a pint of wine for fifty cents. The floor was 
sanded, the tablecloths not always clean, but the 
cooking was excellent and there you met everyone 
— saints and sinners, millionaires and mendicants, 
capitalists, courtesans and clerks. 

The saloons were favorite eating places. There 
were two classes among the leading ones — 'the 
“one-bit” and the “two-bit” kind which served a 
regular square meal. At the two-bit saloon any 
drink was a quarter, but you got all you wanted to 
eat with it, and the menu embraced such things as 
,164 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

turtle soup, roast pig, lamb or chicken, whole 
broiled salmon, potatoes, tomatoes, cheese, 
crackers, pickles and relishes. No matter whether 
you bought whisky, wine, beer, a cigar or a pack- 
age of cigarettes, the price was a quarter, and the 
lunch went with it. At the one-bit saloons the price 
was fifteen cents and the lunch was not so good nor 
so varied, but enough to keep a man full and fit. 

The enormous wealth in the hands of a few in 
San Francisco had bred socialism, as it always 
does. The “sand lot” agitation was a symptom, and 
Dennis Kearney, its leader, came near being 
elected Mayor at one time. His power had waned 
a little when I arrived, but there were still many 
“sand-lotters” in the city. Frisco also had its toughs 
and gangsters. Not everyone knows, perhaps, that 
the word “hoodlum” originated in that city. Regu- 
lar gang organizations grew up among the hood- 
lums, and they could have given pointers to New 
York’s Dead Rabbits or Hudson Dusters, Their 
leading occupations were robbery and theft, and 
their favorite outdoor sports — speaking especially 
of the younger ones — ^were pulling Chinese queues 
and bouncing brickbats and boulders off of Celes- 
tial skulls. 

Thompson and I played at the Adelphi Theatre, 
at the corner of California and Kearney Streets, 
where Ed Buckley was running a high-class variety 

165 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

show. The program, like that of the commoner 
concert halls, lasted several hours. It opened with 
the inevitable minstrel first part, then came the 
olio and finally the full-length play. Drinks were 
of course served on the floor; you couldn’t run a 
theatrical enterprise in Frisco then without them. 
Why, even in the highest class theatres and opera 
houses, the elite had champagne sent into their 
boxes from the bar which was a part of every 
theatre building, and sipped it between acts. 

For its play the Adelphi had no cheap, risque 
afiair written on the spot by one of the actors or 
house staff, but a melodrama selected from what 
was then classed as the legitimate. Soon after our 
arrival, no less a person than Dionysius Lardner 
Boucicault himself came for an engagement at our 
place, directing and acting in his own plays. It 
was there that I first acted in the “legitimate.” My 
first part was that of Mr. Corrigan in The Colleen 
Baivn. Three or four years later a newspaper 
writer estimated that Boucicault had earned from 
that play — ^which had then been on the boards 
about twenty-five years — fully $200,000. I con- 
tinued to take part week after week in the play, 
and acted with Boucicault in Arrah-na-Fogue, 
The Octoroon, Old Heads and Young Hearts 
and two or three others of his dramas. 

Boucicault at that time was nearing sixty but 
166 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

looked younger, and still had all the fire and vivac- 
ity of youth. It did not seem possible that it had 
been nearly forty years since he wrote London As- 
surance. He was a vigorous stage director, im- 
patient with stupidity and a wielder of very 
pointed sarcasm when an actor persistently missed 
his point. He called everybody “my dear” at re- 
hearsals, but there were many times — oh, how 
many! — ^when he didn’t mean it. 

When Boucicault was not with us we played not 
only his but many other old melodramas; Out at 
Sea, Rick, or the Ocean Waif, The Ticket-of- 
Leave Man, Lifers Revenge, The Sea of Ice and 
so on, all of them strenuous (but not morbid), all 
of them full of hideous machinations by the villain 
or villains, who were, however, invariably “foiled” 
in the end. People liked plays full of action and 
highly spiced with treason, stratagem, and danger. 
Producers strove for thrilling effects — a fire scene, 
a mill scene, an ocean scene, a convict ship, a light- 
house interior with the revolving lamp. Programs 
of those days usually gave a title or catch line to 
each act. For instance, the list of scene locations 
in the program of Boucicault’s drama The Streets 
of New York ran as follows: 

Prologue. Bloodgood’s Banking House. “Take up your end.” 
Act I. Mrs. Fairweather’s Apartments. “I could not help 
it.” 


167 



CLOWNING THROUGH 


LIFE 


Act. II. Parlor of Bloodgood’s House. “I left that receipt at 
home.’’ 

Act HI. Union Square by moonlight. ^‘Matches five cents a 
bunch.” 

Act. IV. Five Points; Badger’s Lodgings. ‘'Jeems, snuff the 
gas.” 

Act. V. THE GREAT FIRE SCENE. This is the most 
realistic scene ever produced on any stage. 

Act VI. Parlor in Bloodgood’s House. ‘‘Not yet, Gid. We 
want you.” 

Sometimes the program went farther than this, 
and hinted at the outline of the story in each act. 
Thus the program schedules an act of Boucicault’s 
play The Jilt'. 


Act I 

Budleigh Abbotts in Yorkshire, country seat of Sir Budleigh 
Woodstock. Bringing Home the Bride. Shadow on the Porch. 
Nemesis. The Love Letters of the Jilt meet the Bride. Geoff in 
a Mess. Referee, the great Racing Prophet, visits the Abbotts. 
Myles O’Hara meets his Fate. 

And characters in the same play were set before 
you thus : 

Myles O’Hara Mr. Dion Boucioault 

Of Ballinahinch, County Galway, a gentleman rider, 
prophet of the turf, writing in the “Sporting World” 
under the signature of “Referee.” 

Perhaps the intent of this was to obviate so 
much verbal explanation on the part of the actors 
during the play. It certainly didn’t leave much to 
strain the wits of the audience. 

168 



CLOWNING r H R O U G H LIFE 

Probably the most famous catch line ever written 
was that which labelled Act I of Milton Noble’s 
old blood-and-thunder melodrama, The Phoenix 
— '“And the villain still pursued her.” That line 
was a byword and a standing joke both in and out 
of the profession for thirty years or more. 

Jim and I were at the Adelphi all summer and 
a portion of the following winter — though to men- 
tion summer and winter in San Francisco is only 
a manner of speaking, for the temperature is nearly 
the same the year round. Like all other newcomers 
to the town, we were chilled at first by the ^ 5 - 
degree temperature and the frequent fogs, but we 
presently became accustomed to wearing semi- 
winter clothing all the time and began to like it. 
There were so many other things to endear old 
Frisco to light-hearted people like ourselves that 
the climate became a secondary matter, anyhow. 

In February, ’82, we received an offer of an en- 
gagement with Emerson’s Minstrels — yes, from the 
great Billy Emerson himself, who had so thrilled 
me in Chicago nearly fifteen years before. He had 
now reached even higher eminence in his profes- 
sion; he had been to Australia and other foregin 
shores and aroused much enthusiasm, and at the 
time of his offer to us was located for a long stay 
in San Francisco, having leased the Standard 
Theatre on Bush Street. 


169 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Emerson was one of the great geniuses of the 
blackface art He had so handsome and intellectual 
a face that it seemed a pity to cover it with burnt 
cork. He was graceful, versatile and had a voice 
of real opera quality. Some of the songs he was 
singing in the latter Seventies and Eighties, such as 
“Moriarity,” “Just as Happy as a Big Sunflower,” 
and “Morning by the Bright Light,” became lead- 
ing hits of the period. 

He had surrounded himself with a fine company 
at the Standard. In his opening he had no less than 
six end men. A program which I have, dated April 
3d, gives these as Emerson himself, Charlie Reed, 
Pete Mack, Burt Haverly, Gus Bruno and J. H. 
Love. Chauncey Olcott was a member of the com- 
pany, singing ballads of course in that clear, sweet 
tenor of his. “Little Wife Nellie” was the song he 
used during that week of April 3d. Tom Dixon, 
another noted tenor of the day, was singing there, 
as were H. W. Frillman and W. F. Bishop, bassos 
and other excellent vocalists. The orchestral ac- 
complishments to songs in Emerson’s shows were 
ideal, in my opinion. The conductor did not drown 
the singer entirely with a boiler-shop noise effect, 
as they so often do nowadays where they have big 
orchestras. I often wonder how grand opera 
singers make their vocal organs last as long as they 
do. One little human voice trying to fight against 
170 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

seventy-five or eighty strings, wood-winds, brasses, 
kettledrums and traps, isn’t my idea of fair play. 
In Emerson’s shows the accompaniment was prop- 
erly subordinated ; it was a soft, liquid background, 
if I may so call it, of flute, harp and a few stringed 
instruments. He liked the idea, too, of singing the 
chorus of a song rather forte and then repeating 
it pianissimo. 

Emerson’s show lasted exactly two hours. The 
program bore the announcement, “Curtain rises 
precisely at 8 o’clock.” (And it did, too.) “Car- 
riages ordered at lo o’clock.” Prices were SO and 
7S cents ; matinees 2S and SO cents. You could re- 
serve a seat if you so desired without extra cost; 
otherwise the seat remained open to the first comer. 
Some of these ideas of course were not peculiar to 
Emerson’s theatre, but were found in many other 
playhouses of the time. I merely mention them in 
connection with the Standard as a hint of the great 
changes that have taken place in forty-five years. 

Our theatre was in the very midst of San Fran- 
cisco’s Rialto, which centered on Bush Street, over- 
flowing into Market, Kearney, and other cross 
streets. The afternoon parade of beauty and fashion 
on Market and Kearney, especially on Saturdays, 
was worth going miles to see. Everybody put on 
his or her — mostly her — best bib and tucker and 
strolled ; stopping now and again for refreshments 

171 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

or to chat with friends, then strolling some more. 

The Thompsons and the Foys were frequently 
among the strollers. We had some jolly times that 
year — dining at Campi’s, the. Poodle Dog, Mar- 
chand’s or some other of the Bohemian restaurants, 
lounging in the lobby and parlors of the gorgeous 
Palace Hotel — then one of the wonders of Amer- 
ica — ^wandering through Chinatown, drinking tea 
from lacquered tables and buying useless trinkets, 
through Portsmouth Square, the forurri of the 
sandlotters where Kearney made his fiery speeches, 
slumming (by daylight) along the Barbary Coast, 
where every other building was a dive or a dance 
hall worse than any we had ever seen, jaunting out 
to the Presidio or to the Cliff House to see the 
seals, climbing Nob Hill (over streets so steep that 
they were grass grown) to see the millionaires’ 
homes, occasionally joining one of the picnic par- 
ties which marched down Market Street to the 
ferry station led by an oompah-oompah brass band 
to take a boat to San Rafael, Sausalito, Vallejo, 
Benicia or some other jolly place across the bay. 
One may consider a great deal of life’s misfortune 
and unhappiness counterbalanced if one has had 
the joy of knowing the old San Francisco. 

Jim and I were billed on Emerson’s posters as 
the “Monarch Refined, Artistic Ethiopian Eccen- 
trics.” We stayed with his show more than three 
172 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

months and might have been there longer had we 
not been smitten with an ambition to be producers 
on our own. Almost every actor suffers from at- 
tacks of this kind at intervals, and once in a while 
some actor really gets away with the trick and be- 
comes a Cohan or a Belasco. Our temptation came 
through Gus Bruno, also of Emerson’s company, 
who was offered what he called an “opportunity,” 
and forthwith came down with a bad case of man- 
agerial aspirations. Charlie Reed, a clever com- 
edian who had recently come from the East to join 
the Emerson organization, had a script of an Irish 
farce named Muldoon’s Picnic which had made 
a great hit in the East — one of the old green- 
whiskered variety which had many successors dur- 
ing the following twenty-five years. Bruno was 
very eager for us to combine with him, buy the 
script and produce the show up and down the 
Coast, and Jim and I fell for the scheme. I don’t 
know whether Charlie’s title to the producing 
rights of the play was unassailable or not, but we 
bought it from him for twenty-five dollars. 

Gus Bruno, by the way, was a clever chap and 
worth a paragraph of his own. He was a Dane, and 
had started out in early youth as a circus acrobat 
and contortionist in Copenhagen. About 1870 he 
came to this country and appeared in the varieties 
as “The Limber Boy.” But he was a clever com- 

173 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

edian and especially strong on various dialects, and 
his athletic stuff soon became secondary. He was 
the first to introduce the Swedish and Dutch 
broken English on the American stage. When he 
tried Irish dialect, he was almost equally good. He 
was one of the most confirmed practical jokers I 
ever saw. A favorite stunt of his was to throw a fit 
on the street, perhaps right across the street car 
tracks, and sometimes allow himself to be carted 
off to a hospital before revealing that his attack 
was a fake. A “sell” like that was widely discussed 
and laughed at in those days, and incidentally, Gus 
got a lot of publicity out of it. 

Anyone who has heard the oft-told story of the 
two Irishmen, Mike and Pat, will not be surprised 
to learn that two Hibernian cronies were the lead- 
ing characters in our comedy. It was decided that 
Bruno and I were the men for these parts, so 
Bruno played Muldoon, while I essayed Mulcahy. 
Thompson played three or four parts, and our 
three wives, doubling wherever necessary, rounded 
out a well-balanced company. 

We soon began to get a hint of the worries of the 
producing manager. Our investment in costumes 
and properties was not large, but the advance 
man’s salary and expenses, some necessary posters 
and dodgers and our own travelling expenses at the 
start ate up money rapidly. Bruno put up one half 
174 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

of the capital, and Jim and I the other half. 

With high hopes we went trouping up and down 
the State, playing such towns as Oroville, Nevada 
City, Auburn, Marysville, Redbluff, Placerville, 
Stockton, Fresno and so on, wherever there was an 
“opry house” or a hall with a semblance of a stage 
in it. At one place we visited, one man was the 
principal storekeeper, pharmacist, undertaker, 
postmaster, manager of the theatre (it was in his 
store) and with his fiddle was one half of the or- 
chestra, his daughter with her piano being the 
other half. And for this village Poo-Bah we had to 
give a full rehearsal of our play in the afternoon, 
in order that he and his daughter might practise 
the three or four songs in the show and learn their 
cues. 

Some of the towns we visited had been pros- 
perous mining camps in the Fifties, Sixties and 
Seventies, but were now fading. Gold mines are 
mostly short-lived. We saw Angels Camp, Dutch 
Flat, Sutter Creek, the Stanislaus River, the Mok- 
elumne and other spots whose names were made 
immortal by Bret Harte. Again and again we came 
upon the remains of old mine workings — caved-in 
prospect holes, the mouths of tunnels gaping in the 
sides of lonely gulches, masses of rotting frame- 
work, old flumes now dry or with the water pour- 
ing from their broken sides, and now and then 

175 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

in the vicinity of such ruins we found the ghosts 
of dead mining camps — huddles of deserted cabins, 
a vacant store or two and a few solemn, bearded 
men still haunting the spot, either too poor to get 
away or still unable to believe that the glory 
of the once-thriving camp had departed. Some of 
them were still prospecting. “She’ll come back 
yet,” they would maintain, stubbornly. “The ore 
in this district ain’t all exhausted, not by a jugful. 
You’ll see!” 

Of course we didn’t show in towns like these; 
but in some places where there was apparently a 
tolerably full complement of citizens, money 
seemed to be scarce. Now and again in more pros- 
perous places we drew a full house, but on several 
occasions we played to sums as low as $8, $19 and 
$24. We didn’t always heed our advance man’s 
bookings. Sometimes we were behind his schedule, 
sometimes we jumped over a date or two and got 
ahead of it. On one or two occasions we came near 
getting in front of the advance man himself. 

There was one more character necessary to the 
company, as anyone old enough to have seen Mul- 
doon’s Picnic will remember, and that was a don- 
key. For this role we secured an ordinary Rocky 
Mountain burro. Transportation for Jack was one 
of our constant worries. If we were travelling by 
train, he could be shipped in the express car, but 
176 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

when we went by stage, as was frequently neces- 
sary to reach out of the way towns, we had to 
scheme variously. Occasionally, when the distance 
wasn’t too great, we could bribe the driver to go 
slowly while we led Jack behind the stage. At 
other times he was led or ridden by some chance 
hireling or even hauled in a wagon. 

Getting him upstairs to the hall was another job 
which Thompson and I found too much for our 
nerves. Gus Bruno was the only one whom he 
chose to obey to the letter. I got him about two- 
thirds of the way up a long flight of stairs one 
evening when he balked, and in the ensuing argu- 
ment, he and I fell together the entire distance to 
the bottom, he being on top most of the way — at 
least such was my impression. After the landscape 
had ceased revolving around me and I recovered 
my power of speech, I told Gus that if the brute ap- 
peared at all in the show that evening, somebody 
else would have to tow him upstairs. Whereupon 
Gus simply laid hold of Jack’s halter and clucked, 
and the donkey tripped up the steps with him as 
docile as any lap-dog. 

We came to Marysville one bright day, and 
though we had been advertised in advance and 
though we distributed some hundreds of dodgers 
immediately upon our arrival, the house that night 
amounted to just a trifle over thirty dollars. But 

177 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


after the performance an enthusiastic patron came 
to us at the hotel and said, “Folks, that was the fun- 
niest show I ever seen I Too bad this town didn’t 
reelize just how funny it was goin’ to be, or they’d 
all been there to-night. Listen, why don’t you stay 
over another night? Get out some handbills in 
the mornin’ and everybody that was there to- 
night’ll boost for you. I’ll talk it all over town my- 
self, and they’ll pack the house. Trouble is, they 
jest don’t reelize how good the show’s goin’ to be 
till you’re gone. You do like I tell you, and you’ll 
have ’em trompin’ each other under foot to get in 
to-morrow evenin’.” 

We couldn’t resist his enthusiasm. We saw clear- 
ly now that the real reason why we were not suc- 
ceeding was that we stayed only one night in each 
town. The second night was bound to be a riot. So 
we agreed to stay over. Our advance man was get- 
ting used to that sort of thing, and wouldn’t mind 
it much. 

While we were busily distributing our handbills 
next morning a train rolled in, and who should 
step off but my old friend Sam Bigley, of my circus 
and minstrel days in Illinois. Ignoring the slightly 
strained manner in which we had parted six years 
before, he greeted me effusively with several 
“Weill Well! Wells I” and we swapped remini- 
scences for a few minutes. He informed me that 
A78 



C L 0 W N I G THROUGH LIFE 

in passing to and fro in California he had heard 
of our troupe, and had stepped a few miles out of 
his way just to grasp me by the hand and talk over 
old times. 

“How’s she going?” he asked. 

“Great!” I replied. “We played here last night 
to a good house, and there was a public demand 
that we stay over another night.” (At that moment, 
I think I really believed it.) “We’re just distri- 
buting the dodgers now.” 

I saw that Sam’s mouth was beginning to water. 
He talked all around the subject for several min- 
utes, and finally plumped it out: “I s’pose you 
wouldn’t care to sell a piece of the show?” 

“I’d have to see my partners about that,” I re- 
plied. I did so, and after a short consultation and 
some sparring with Sam, we at length agreed to 
sell him a half interest in the enterprise for a hun- 
dred dollars. He hoisted a roll of bills from his 
pocket; Sam always had money. 

“Make it a fifty and some tens,” said I. “We 
have to use long division on it, you know.” 

Gus took the fifty and Jim and I divided the rest. 
My old partner and I were now the owners each 
of only one-eighth of the show; which made our 
chances for dividends rather infinitesimal. Of 
course we and our wives were to get regular sala- 
ries as actors. 


179 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

That night we went to the hall with high expec- 
tations. Previously it had been necessary for one 
of the company to collect admissions at the door 
until time to start the show; but now we had a 
treasurer, and one who would be apt to add to our 
— or more likely, his — income by his dexterity in 
the handling of money. 

It was customary in those days to open the doors 
a little after 7 and begin the performance at 7.45 
or 8. Sam took his place at the door, and presently 
in came a big Negro with his wife and four goodly- 
sized sons and daughters. At twenty-five cents 
apiece, that meant a dollar and a half. Sam had 
no opportunity to display his artistry, for the col- 
ored gentleman had the exact change. They took 
their seats, and we all waited. 7.30 came, then 7.45 
— but nobody else. At 8 there was still no rush to 
the box office. We continued to peep anxiously 
through the curtain until 8.30 had passed and the 
colored family were displaying signs of im- 
patience. At 8.45 Sam came back to consult us. He 
was in the depths of woe. 

“What’ll we do?” he asked in a quivering voice. 
“We can’t give the show for a dollar and a 
half!” 

“Only thing is to call it off and give the money 
back,” I suggested. 

“Oh, this is terrible! Terrible!” moaned Sam. 
180 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“I thought you said you were doing fine! I ought 
to ’a’ known better’n to put my money into a troupe 
like this. Mighty near the last hundred dollars I 
had in the world, too!” 

“Oh, pshaw, we’re liable to have a big house to- 
morrow night,” said Bruno, who was always opti- 
mistic. 

Choking with emotion, Sam refunded their 
money to the sons and daughters of Africa and 
they went out, wondering and disappointed, the 
youngest one even in tears. I think Sam walked 
the floor all night in his hotel room. 

We moved on to our next date, where the receipts 
were equally discouraging — $22.75 or something 
like that. Sam continued to emit low moans of 
anguish at intervals ; and though the ill success of 
our venture was really something to worry about, 
I could still (thinking of that unpaid salary of 
mine back there in Illinois years ago) chuckle 
secretly at our new partner’s mental suffering. 

We journeyed down to Sacramento next day, 
and there came the final, the crushing blow. Jack, 
the donkey, lay down on the railroad station plat- 
form, stretched out his legs and died. 

“This is the end!” said Bigley, tragically — as 
dolorous as Romeo beside the bier of Juliet. 

“Oh, maybe not,” suggested Bruno. “Burros are 
cheap.” 


181 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

“Cheap! Hal Hal Yes! — and money is plenti- 
ful!” retorted Bigley in a hollow voice. 

At that moment a youth from the telegraph 
office touched me on the arm. “Mr. Foy?” said he. 
“I’ve got a telegram for Foy and Thompson.” 

Eagerly we tore it open. It had been relayed to 
us from San Francisco by Emerson. It ran some- 
thing like this : 


Butte City, Mont., 

Foy and Thompson, 

San Francisco, Cal., 

Offer you unlimited engagement, starting at seventy- 
five per "week if acceptable will send railroad tickets 

John A. Gordon. 

The Muldoon^s Picnic company expired right 
then and there on the station platform, as suddenly 
but as certainly as poor old Jack had died. 


182 



xy 

Butte was the latest boom mining town. Pros- 
pectors had been seeking gold there for several 
years and had discovered — as at other places — that 
some of the ore which yielded a little gold also bore 
a considerable percentage of silver. But there was 
no great quantity of rich ore, and it was not until 
they had taken off this comparatively thin layer of 
it and discovered the copper underneath that the 
town really took on its magical growth. The great 
Anaconda strike had just been made when we 
received our call, and a big, irregular ridge lying 
just east of Butte had been discovered to be almost 
a solid mass of copper ore. The town contained 
several thousand inhabitants when we arrived, and 
hordes were coming every month. 

The seventy-five a week salary offered was for 
the team — that is, $37.50 apiece. We wired accept- 
ance of Mr. Gordon’s offer, and informed him that 
we would need four railroad tickets, as both of us 
were married. 

“Gosh, I wish I could go up there with you fel- 
lows 1” said Bruno. “I believe I could get a job 
there, too. But I haven’t got the money.” 


183 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Jim and I had a little cash left, and as we liked 
Gus, we loaned him enough to buy railroad tickets 
for himself and wife to Butte, where he succeeded 
in getting an engagement, as he had hoped, and 
did very well. 

There were tears in Bigley’s eyes as he bade us 
adieu, but they were not caused by regret at the 
parting. They were for his lost hundred dollars. I 
gleefully told the Brunos and Thompsons of how 
Sam had bilked Collins and me in our early youth, 
and at intervals all the way across Nevada I 
laughed a low, sardonic ‘Hal Ha!” How I 
yearned for the time when I could see Ben Col- 
lins and tell him the joke! 

We took the Central Pacific to Ogden, whence 
the new Utah & Northern had been built north- 
ward to Butte. It was supposed to be completed, 
but for some reason the trains were stopping at 
Dillon at the time of our journey, and we rode 
the rest of the way by stage. As we approached the 
place, topping one rough hill after another, we 
began to see, far ahead of us, clouds of smoke over- 
hanging the town ; and when we finally overlooked 
the valley in which Butte is located, we caught 
a sulphurous odor and saw that the vapor arose, 
a deep, rich blue in color, from what appeared to 
be great heaps of burning rock just outside the 
town. The driver told us that these mounds, which 
184 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the Indians aptly called “stink piles,” were copper 
ore being roasted in the open as one of the pro- 
cesses of smelting. 

That method was a great nuisance to the in- 
habitants of Butte. When the wind was right, the 
sulphurous fumes in the town were almost stifling. 
I have seen teamsters and others going about their 
business with sponges or rags tied over their 
mouths and noses and people often went hurrying 
along the streets holding handkerchiefs to their 
faces. At night it was often necessary to carry lan- 
terns and torches to find one’s way about. The town 
was emphatically in the raw when we arrived. It 
was the muddiest place I ever saw. The only side- 
walks were an occasional string of single, foot- wide 
plank laid end to end, and on some streets there 
was not even that. In wet weather and especially 
during the spring thaws, one could hardly get 
around without rubber boots. 

In spite of its youth, Butte already had wealthy 
magnates — ^William A. Clark and Marcus Daly 
being the leading ones. The latter had come to 
.camp only a few years before with a pack on his 
back. Clark owned a bank, located in a two-story 
building downtown, and there was a flourishing 
faro game in operation on the second floor. Mind, 
I don’t say that Mr. Clark had anything to do with 
the faro bank; I was just thinking of the coinci- 

,185 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

dences that sometimes happen in mining camps. 

Clark was not impressive in appearance. He was 
rather small, slender, wiry and nervous in tem- 
perament. His bushy hair and whiskers were not 
so noticeable in Butte in those days because most 
other men wore theirs the same way. It used to be 
told that he and Judge Davis, another well-to-do 
citizen, being the original plutocrats of the town, 
were the only men who were permitted to wear a 
boiled shirt and stiff collar. Few people today 
think of Clark as a man of action ; but he was noted 
in Butte for a forty-mile ride on horseback which 
he had made in 1877 from Deer Lodge to Butte 
over rough territory in three hours, to warn the 
camp of an Indian uprising under Chief Joseph. 
A military battalion was at once organized under 
his command to fight the Indians and it served 
valiantly under General Gibbon, Clark showing 
reckless daring in leading his men into dangerous 
situations. They also tell of his thrilling his men by 
singing the “Star Spangled Banner” while they 
were in military formation. 

Butte was in the raw in other ways, too. The new 
railroad had brought a horde of toughs to town — 
at least, the old citizens claimed they weren’t there 
before — and robbery, theft, slugging and gun play 
were daily and nightly occurrences. Finally the 
citizens organized a secret vigilance committee 
186 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

which posted notices on all the walls of the town, 
ordering the rough element to “leave town forth- 
with. This means all who do not seek work and 
will not accept work.” The manifesto bore the 
committee’s secret signature — “3-7-77.” It scared 
the professional crooks, and large numbers of them 
got out of town at once, but still there was a great 
deal of disorder. The frankness of moral (or im- 
moral) conditions in the West in those days was 
illustrated by that street on which there were rows 
of little one- or two-room shacks, each with the 
name of its woman occupant displayed above the 
door on a neatly painted sign or etched in red glass 
with a light placed behind it. 

Gordon’s concert hall, where, we held forth, was 
upstairs over a hardware store and was very suc- 
cessful. He engaged some of the best variety actors 
to be found in the West, and paid what were con- 
sidered good salaries in those days. We stayed at 
his place the better part of a year. 

Those western mining camps hungered for out- 
door sports, and the attempts to gratify the longing 
were often pretty crude. Baseball in 1883 was not 
nearly so universally played as now. None of those 
Westerners knew anything about football, and 
tennis was regarded as a game for women and sap- 
heads. They had no race tracks, and worse still, no 
real race horses. But during the summer of our stay 

187 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

there, Butte was tremendously interested in human 
foot racing. It gave them one of their soul’s chief 
cravings — an opportunity to bet on something; and 
a match between two or three well-known runners 
aroused about as much excitement as the Kentucky 
Derby does in Louisville. 

Jim Thompson and I, being all-around athletes, 
knew how to pick up our feet pretty rapidly our- 
selves, and we ran in several races, each winning 
two or three firsts. Jim was a little faster than I 
was. On a good track he had done the hundred 
yards in as low as W /2 seconds, and he was pretty 
nearly the best in camp until a fellow named 
Bennett showed up. 

Bennett was supposed to be a Wyoming cowboy. 
He and Jim and I were in a race one day along 
with two or three other fellows, and he came out 
first, with Jim a close second, while I was third. 
I saw at a glance that Bennett had wonderful ac- 
tion and reserve force, and would be a hard man 
for us to beat. His admirers and Thompson’s 
argued the question of supremacy until at length 
Jim and I were induced to make a match with him 
for $500 a side. I say Jim and I because, though 
Jim was to do the running, I put up half the 
money. 

We had scarcely made the match when we were 
given a secret tip that Bennett was a “ringer.” His 
388 



House Where Eddie Foy Lived While Playing in Butte (as It Looked Twenty-Five Years Later) 




CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LITE 


name was not Bennett and he was not a cowboy, 
but an Eastern man and a famous professional 
sprinter, who could, if he chose, do the hundred in 
ten seconds or better. It appeared that there were a 
few other sports in town, including Gordon, the 
concert hall owner and Mayor Oglesby, who ran 
a feed store, who were in the know and were back- 
ing Bennett to the limit. In fact, their money was 
so plentiful that it began to lengthen the odds on 
their man. Thompson money took fright and be- 
came difScult to find, the odds on Bennett finally 
rising to 4 to r. Things looked pretty gloomy for 
Jim and me, for we could ill afford to lose that 
five hundred. 

The race was to be run on Saturday. Thursday 
night Bennett muttered to me at the concert hall 
between acts, “Come outside, back of the building 
in five minutes. I’ve got a proposition to make to 
you.” 

I scented something crooked, of course, and my 
curiosity was greatly aroused. I presently strolled 
out into the darkness of a back street, and found 
Bennett waiting. He was very nervous lest some- 
body see us together. 

“Foy,” said he in a low tone, “I believe you’re 
on the square, and I’m going to let you into some- 
thing. I can’t win that race Saturday.” 

“Why not?” I asked. 


189 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“Because I think Thompson can outrun me,” he 
replied with a snicker. “In fact, I know he can. 
To show you how strong I believe it — ” he pressed 
a little bundle of something into my hand — “here’s 
two thousand that I want you to bet for me on 
Thompson. Noav that ought to encourage you to 
bet a little money of your own. Borrow, beg or 
steal it and bet on Jim. You can get 4 to i now. 
I’ll give you a nice little percentage of this as a 
commission for betting it for me. Will you do it?” 

I had been thinking fast, trying to fathom the ins 
and outs of his game. Of course he was planning 
to throw the race ; but why, with all those promi- 
nent men backing him? 

“I’m putting this in your hands because I think 
you’re on the square,” Bennett repeated. “All I ask 
is that you sign this little receipt.” 

Of course he knew that Jim and I couldn’t af- 
ford to lose that five hundred. He must have 
guessed that it pushed us pretty hard to raise the 
purse, to say nothing of what bets we might have 
made since. He therefore thought that I would 
welcome eagerly the news that we were to win, and 
would throw in with him on any dodge he pro- 
posed; also that we would be less likely to give 
the thing away than anyone else whom he might 
ask to place a bet for him. 

I took the receipt to a place not far off where I 
190 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

could read it by the light from a window. It mere- 
ly read, “I have received from Henry Bennett 
$2,000 which I agree to bet for him as he directs.” 
I counted the money and the amount was correct. 
No doubt it was a foolish move, but I had decided 
to take the money just as an experiment and return 
it to him later if necessary. Meanwhile I was going 
to consult a man named Burns who, I knew, was 
in the concert hall upstairs at that moment. Burns 
was a plunger, but on the other side of his brain 
he was as wise as a tree-full of owls, and he was 
a good friend of mine. I signed Bennett’s receipt, 
and returning to the hall I found Burns and drew 
him to a table in a corner, where I told him what 
had passed. 

“Of course he’s going to throw it,” agreed Burns. 
“Stub his toe or something, just enough to throw 
him out of his stride, and make believe it was an 
accident. But I don’t believe he’s planning this 
thing alone. Somebody’s put him up to it — ^some 
gambler, ratost likely — and they’re expecting to 
cash in big on that four-to-one money. Maybe 
they’re placing some money elsewhere lieside the 
two thousand he gave you.” 

He pondered a moment, pulling his moustache. 
Then he said, “Tell you what you do. Carry out 
Bennett’s instructions ; bet his money for him. I’ll 
take the bet. I’ve been betting on him right along,” 

191 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

he explained with a grin at my wondering face. “I 
haven’t got the money in my pocket just now, but 
you can consider the bet covered. Better not have a 
stakeholder because we don’t want this thing to go 
any farther than ourselves. Here, I’ll give you a 
memorandum.” He drew some letters and papers 
out of his pocket, tore off a scrap and wrote on it 
with pencil ; 

Edwin Foy 

I O U $8,000 if Jim Thompson wins the race Satur- 
day, 16th J. L. Burns. 

“But how do you know Bennett will win?” I 
asked. 

“Oh, I think he will,” he replied with a smile. 

I knew he had something up his sleeve, but 
neither Jim nor I ever guessed what a simple yet 
effective implement it was. On the afternoon of the 
race, everything was in readiness and the two con- 
testants had even thrown aside their wraps when 
Burns drew Bennett aside and said: 

“Listen, I want three or four words with you, 
Mr. Alias Bennett. We all know you’re a ringer. 
We know who you are and know you can win this 
race if you want to. And I happen to know that 
you’ve laid plans to throw it. I could holler that 
out here right now, and somebody’d let daylight 
through you before you ever got a chance to start.” 
192 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Perspiration suddenly bedewed Bennett’s wor- 
ried countenance. 

“Now listen again 1” said Burns, leaning forward 
and raising his left index finger while his right 
hand rested as if unconsciously on the butt of a 
big .45 in his belt. “I’m going to be standing right 
down there at the finish line — close beside the 
track. And when you cross the line, I warn you, 
you'd better be in front!" 

He softly slapped his pistol butt, gave Bennett 
one last hard look and turned away. “Wait a min- 
ute, Mr. Burns!” Bennett exclaimed, half whisper- 
ing, his face white with fear ; but Burns was gone. 

It was too late for Bennett to do anything. He 
dared not crawfish on the race altogether. Prob- 
ably his own pals were nowhere near him, not dar- 
ing to be seen with him. He had to work his prob- 
lem out alone, and he had only a few seconds to do 
it in, for the starter was already calling him to take 
his position. 

Bennett ran that race with a look of agony on his 
face. No man was ever more actually between the 
devil and the deep sea. There at the finish stood 
Burns with his hand on his pistol. Bennett simply 
had to win. On the other hand were his pals with 
whom he had agreed to throw the race, and who 
had hazarded thousands of dollars on Thompson. 
Bennett ran with his face a mask of tragedy, his 

193 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


eyes on Burns at every stride. I believe that the 
strain on him was so great that it came near beat- 
ing him — for Jim was conscientiously running his 
best. But as they struck the tape, Bennett was less 
than an arm’s length in front. He fell, half faint- 
ing, into somebody’s arms, and a moment later 
staggered away into the crowd. He vanished from 
town that night, and I never heard how he squared 
matters with the men who, we believed, were at the 
bottom of his intended trickery — nor who the men 
were. They took care to keep their identity well 
hidden. 

“I promised you boys a commission for giving 
me a chance at that bet,” said Burns, when I gave 
him the $2,000. He peeled off four or five of the 
bills and handed them to me with his wide grin. 
They totaled an even thousand. 

“That’ll cover your losses and a little more,” he 
explained. 


194 



XVI 


It was the high ambition of every Western 
variety actor to “go East.” Not only did a call to 
the Eastern stage mean the luxury of making New 
York one’s headquarters, but it was also a symbol 
of advancement, of recognition by the most critical 
theatrical taste in the country. 

But wait a moment! When I said every Western 
actor I was wrong. I meant all but one. Jim 
Thompson couldn’t entirely sympathize with my 
ambition to go east. He liked the West, and the 
West liked us. We now had no trouble in keeping 
our time filled there. We could go to any one of 
several Western towns and stay six months or a 
year at a stretch if we liked, meanwhile saving no 
little in travelling expense. Jim argued that to 
spend all our time at comfortable salaries in such 
of the larger cities between Chicago and the Paci- 
fic sands as we liked best would be a pretty satis- 
factory scheme of life. Still, he was keenly alive 
to the honor of a call to an Eastern theatre, and 
anxious to have the experience ; and he was there- 
fore highly gratified when we received the offer 
of an engagement with Carncross’s Minstrels at the 

195 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

Eleventh Street Theatre in Philadelphia. For this 
contract, our thanks were due to Chauncey Olcott, 
who had left Emerson to sing with Carncross and 
who had recommended us very highly. 

We left Butte with invitations to come again 
ringing in our ears, and journeyed eastward, Jim 
and I with very different ideas in our heads. I had 
made up my mind that I was going East to stay. 
I was determined to storm the Eastern citadel and 
settle down there; to make eastern audiences ac- 
cept me as an actor and demand my presence at 
least once yearly. Jim on the other hand, regarded 
our eastern engagement as merely a pleasant and 
profitable interlude, and a corking good bit of 
publicity for us among Western theatre and con- 
cert hall managers. 

We were at that time dressing in the style which 
among the mining camps was considered the swag- 
ger, anti-dude Sunday attire of a real he-man — 
comfortable fitting store clothes, soft shirts with 
low collars, flowing ties and broad-brimmed, gray- 
ish-tan Stetson hats. When we breezed into the 
elegant office of the immaculately Eastern-dressed 
John L. Carncross, he looked up at us in some 
surprise, but I think I detected in his glance a hint 
of secret approval of the advertising value of our 
make-up. 

“Now I don’t know a thing about you gentlemen 
196 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

except by hearsay,” he remarked after we had ex- 
changed greetings. “Just tell me what you can do.” 

I should explain that in those halcyon days of 
minstrelsy every blackface comedian coveted the 
job of sitting on the end. The end men, if they were 
clever, won gratifying rewards in laughter, and to 
be a good end man was to reach the top rung in 
minstrelsy. 

“Well, we’re good singers,” I replied to Mr. 
Carncross’s question. “We can hit the bull’s eye 
with ’most any kind of a song, especially topical. 
We’re good singers and good acrobats — but we’re 
not end men, Mr. Carncross; we’re not funny.” 

After some more conversation we parted to meet 
again at rehearsal next morning. When we ap- 
peared modestly in the wings, Carncross beckoned 
to us, and calling the rest of his big company to 
order, he raised his voice and said; 

“Gentlemen, I have to present you this morning 
two very interesting and unusual phenomena. I 
have been in this business for twenty-five years, and 
I thought I had seen everything that there was to 
be seen in it. I thought I had had all the surprises. 
But I was wrong. Yesterday for the first time in my 
career I met two young men who frankly admit 
that they are not funny enough to sit on the end !” 

Carncross’s troupe in those days represented the 
very highest pitch of achievement in the minstrel 

197 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


art. They had a regular clientele which included 
lawyers, doctors, ministers and some of the social 
elite of Philadelphia, who went to see the show 
at regular intervals, some as often as once a month, 
others whenever the program was changed. Cam- 
cross had been running his show there, with only 
one very short interval, since the latter Sixties, and 
he continued to operate it without a break and 
with only an occasional short trip out of town until 
his death in 1896. Philadelphia loved its minstrel 
show then and loves it yet; for there is still a per- 
manent troupe playing there, still rattling the old 
bones and tambo, still holding its loyal clientele, 
many of them sons and grandsons and great-grand- 
sons of the folks who used to laugh at Carncross 
and Dixey and the other great minstrels there in 
the long ago. 

Carncross himself was a clever performer with a 
superb tenor voice, but he was not taking part in 
the program when we were there — save that once 
when we went to Washington for an engagement 
of three or four weeks, he sang a solo and on one 
occasion even sat in the middle. But as a regular 
interlocutor E. N. Slocum had just succeeded 
George Frothingham (who later played Friar 
Tuck for so many years in the operas, Robin 
Bood and Maid Marian)^ and he in turn gave 
place during our engagement to Frank Dumont, 
J98 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

another famous old minstrel. Dumont, by the way, 
took over the troupe at Carncross’s death in ’96. 

Chauncey Olcott was singing |>allads with the 
company with great success, and two other promi- 
nent performers were the so-called Dockstader 
brothers. George Alfred Clapp, who had begun 
his minstrel career a few years before as Lew 
Clapp, had teamed up with the then more famous 
Charlie Dockstader in 1878, and in so doing had 
sunk his own surname — ^which he didn’t like, any- 
how — so that the team might be known as the 
Dockstader Brothers. Charlie left Carncross be- 
cause of ill health some time after our arrival, but 
Lew remained, still calling himself Lew Dock- 
stader, and so he was known until the end of his 
life. 

We were with Carncross twelve weeks. While I 
was working there. Rose played an engagement of 
several weeks at Gilmore’s Central Theatre and 
won high praise from a clientele which was often 
rather hard to satisfy. Some church people of the 
city heard her sing an oratorio number in that rich, 
smooth contralto voice which was winning a con- 
siderable reputation for her, and they sent other 
church members to hear her. The result was that 
a few of the wealthier ones got together and urged 
her to go into oratorio work, offering to supply the 

money for the necessary study to that end. It was 

199 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

a very tempting prospect, and we would have con- 
sidered it seriously had not a crisis in her life been 
approaching just then. Nothing in the way of a 
course of study could be attempted until that was 
over. 

From Philadelphia we went back to Chicago, 
Rose and I to stay for at least a portion of the sum- 
mer ; and there my troubles began. Thompson in- 
sisted on going back to the West. The shortness 
of the engagements in the East made work there 
seem very precarious to him as compared with our 
old field, where we might settle down and stay 
almost as long as we liked. But I had been stung 
by ambition, and ’i^as determined to climb higher 
than the concert halls or die in the attempt. On this 
rock Jim and I split, and finally agreed to go our 
separate ways. 

We had developed considerable feeling in our 
arguments over the matter before the final deci- 
sion ; but when it came to parting, we melted again 
and thought only of the six jolly years we had 
spent together and of our regret at breaking the tie. 
We had stood by each other through some very 
thrilling, some very strenuous, and some very 
funny hours, and had found each other true. We 
had had experiences which we could never have 
again — for already the old West was changing. 
Dodge, for example, was declining as a cow town, 
300 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the mines at Leadville were giving out, Denver, 
was becoming more sophisticated. There were tears 
in our eyes as we shook hands at the last 

“I hope you may succeed, Eddie,” said Jim. 
“And now that you’ve decided, I’ll say that I be- 
lieve you’ve got it in you to do it I’ve thought so 
ever since I first saw you back there at Fort 
Wayne.” 

We parted, and saw each other only occasionally 
in the years that followed. Jim went back to his old 
love, and there he spent most of his time until he 
died a few years ago. 

I succeeded in getting an engagement to do a 
single act with Carncross early in the following 
season; but just at the time when I was due to join 
him, my wife’s critical moment was almost at hand. 
I was torn with anxiety at leaving her, and yet we 
needed the money so badly that it seemed I must 
go. With many misgivings I bade her good-bye, 
boarded the train and started eastward. But the 
farther I went the more my fears increased, until 
every mile became a torture. By the time we 
reached Pittsburgh, I was certain that I had a 
vision of her dying. I got off the train, pawned my 
watch — for I had left practically all my funds at 
home for her care — and bought a ticket back to 
Chicago. I was none too soon — for only a few days 
more together were left to us. The ordeal, when it 

201 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

fcame, was too great for her strength, and she died 
in my arms. The little child for which she gave her 
life was taken also. 

Now and then in life there is a sorrow so keen 
that the pain of it never quite departs. My grief 
at the loss of my youthful sweetheart was one of 
these. Life seemed to stop short for a while and 
almost lose its reason for continuance. Rose had 
been the most perfect chum and partner that a man 
ever had ; always a good sport, always patient and 
tolerant of my numerous shortcomings. There was 
that time in Butte, for example, when I turned 
foolish over a faro game and stuck with it, wildly 
trying to recoup the money already lost, until I 
had tossed away all our savings. When I went 
home, miserably enough, and confessed to her what 
I had done, she turned pale as death for a moment 
and sat looking at me in a way that pierced me to 
the heart. Then she pulled herself together, forced 
a faint smile and patted my hand. 

“It’s all right, sweetheart,” she said. “Don’t 

grieve. We’ll make some more money. Only ” 

and she lifted her finger solemnly, “don’t do it 
’again.” And I never did while she lived. 

For a time after her death I was too sick at heart 
to do anything. Finally I succeeded in reinstating 
the Carncross engagement, but I was not at my 
best, and I fear I did not make as big a hit as be- 
202 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

fore. With Rose’s passing, I seemed to have 
reached the ebb tide of my fortunes. I could get 
no engagement of any consequence, and finally I 
was compelled to go on at Kohl & Middleton’s 
Dime Museum in Chicago, where they gave ten 
shows a day. Anyone who remembers the old dime 
museum will recall that their variety programs 
were very brief. I think I threw forty somersaults 
daily during the several weeks I played there and 
at their house in Milwaukee. 

It really seemed as if Jim Thompson had been 
right. For a year or more I could get only short en- 
gagements and with none too prosperous com- 
panies. I was with the Rentz-Santley Burlesque 
Company for a while. They were giving a travesty 
on Orpheus and Eurydice, and one of the company 
was Anne Sutherland, who is doing a strong 
dramatic part in a play on Broadway today. Then 
I played with Barry and Fay in Irish Aristocracy, 
which was simply the original version of Mul- 
doon's Picnic. The two stars always had a sort of 
grouch at me for playing that pirated version of 
their piece in California, though goodness knows 
we didn’t do them any harm with our little tour 
of the small towns up and down the Sierras and 
the foothills. 

My next job was with a musical farce called The 
Tigers, which was owned and partly acted by Kelly 

203 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

and Mason, the first-named being Harry Kelly, 
who is still alive and acting at this writing. The 
piece was written by Ariel Barney and was, to tell 
the truth, an imitation of Charles H. Hoyt’s farces, 
then becoming so popular. 

In this I played no less than three prominent 
parts, whose respective names were Buffington 
Quick, Ah There, and English (not to speak of 
doing also two or three smaller bits) and at least 
one sapient critic was good enough to say that I 
“displayed remarkable versatility in all of them.” 
My principal part was that of a jigging, staring, 
stuttering, grotesque bell-boy; and in this role I 
seemingly began to disprove my perhaps over- 
modest admission to Carncross that I could lay no 
claim to being an able funmaker. But the play 
itself was not a good vehicle, and when the troupe 
finally collapsed, I was left stranded in New York, 
with no job in sight and winter coming on apace. 

I was stopping at a boarding house in Great 
Jones Street at that time. That street is now a 
canon shut in by great wholesale houses, but forty 
years ago it was a quiet byway full of old residences 
and little shops. Union Square, a few blocks to 
northward, was the theatrical center, and the 
benches in the Square were the favorite places for 
us actors to gather and tell each other how good 
we were, and knock the managers, the critics, and 
204 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the public. They were the favorite loafing places 
in summer, I mean, when the trees which then 
made the Square a bower of green, threw the 
benches into cool shadow. But now it was winter, 
and one couldn’t sit on a park bench save on an in- 
frequent, mild, sunny day, and not even then if one 
hadn’t any overcoat. The few dollars I had left 
were sparingly doled out to the boarding house 
lady, and then I soaked my overcoat down at Simp- 
son’s, on the corner, and borrowed one from Pete 
Gale of the vaudeville team composed of himself, 
Joe Pettengill, Pete Dailey and Jimmy Hoey, and 
known as The American Four. Some of these — 
Pete Dailey in particular — became more famous in 
later years when they were with other combina- 
tions. 

The team of Hawkins and Collins — the last- 
named being my boyhood friend, Ben Collins — 
w’ere in town and boarding at the same place, and 
I could have borrowed money from Collins if he 
had had any to loan, but the shoe was always on 
the other foot; he was habitually borrowing from 
somebody else. When he had money he loaned or 
gave it away as if it had been water. He was thor- 
oughly irresponsible — a beloved vagabond — a per- 
fect blend of Puck and Rip van Winkle. He was 
one of the bright stars of the varieties then; I meet 
old-timers yet who declare that the team of Haw- 

205 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


clowning. 


kins and Collins was one of the greatest the vaude- 
ville stage ever knew; but a fondness for the cup 
that both cheers and inebriates was his curse. 

He had just had a rather serious bout with J. 
Barleycorn during which he began seeing things, 
and we took some of his clothes away from him to 
prevent his getting out after more liquor. But an 
afternoon or two later, when he had sobered up 
enough to have an intense craving for a drink, and 
while I was asleep and the other boarders were 
away, he succeeded in collecting enough of other 
people’s clothes to make a tolerably decent appear- 
ance, took that handsome overcoat which I had 
borrowed from Gale, and hocked it at the corner 
pawnshop for ten dollars. 

While he was in the shop a little girl, no more 
than twelve years old, thin and sad-faced, came in 
with a ring which her mother had sent to be 
pawned. What her history was, we never knew. 
The mother might have been a worthy woman, or 
she might have been a drunkard or a dope fiend. 
The pawnbroker took a brief look at the ring and 
handed it back to the child. 

“No good,” said he. “We can’t loan anything on 
that.” 

Tears came into the girl’s eyes. “But mamma 
must have some money;” she faltered. “Can’t you 
give just a little on it?” 

206 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“Not a cent,” said the money-lender, “It’s pho- 
ney. It ain’t worth a dime.” 

Slowly the child turned towards the door, with 
tears running down her cheeks. Collins had stood 
all this time with the ten-dollar bill in his hand, a 
silent but deeply interested spectator. He craved a 
drink at that moment above all things else in the 
world. He had virtually stolen and pawned another 
man’s property just to get money to buy liquor ; but 
he was not proof against that picture of distress. 
He stepped suddenly to the girl’s side, took her 
hand, put the money into it and closed her fingers 
over it. She gave a startled look at it and raised her 
eyes to his in amazement. 

“Why — ^what — what ” she stammered. 

“Little girl,” said Collins in his most solemn 
manner, “tell your mamma you met Jay Gould and 
he was on a drunk.” And with that he strode out of 
the shop and came home to weep because he had 
nothing wherewithal to buy booze. 

Ben’s impishness in another direction was dis- 
played in his episode with Carl Hertz, a German 
magician who was playing the variety houses in 
those days. Notwithstanding the fact that Hertz 
was as tight as the bark on a tree, Ben tried to bor- 
row four dollars from him one day. When he 
needed money, he would have agreed to write an 
opera for you for four dollars. Of course Hertz 

207 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

refused. Collins didn’t like him, anyhow — as a mat- 
ter of fact, he wasn’t popular, though he couldn’t 
be blamed for not loaning money in this particular 
instance — and so Ben planned revenge. 

One of Hertz’s tricks concerned a live rabbit 
which he caused to vanish on the stage. He then 
walked down the main aisle and “found” the 
animal in the pocket of a man in the audience. This 
was done by planting a man — some casual person 
picked up by the house manager — in a certain seat, 
always the same one, with a second live rabbit, 
trained for the job, in his inner coat pocket. 

Collins by a little sleuthing discovered the loca- 
tion of this capper’s seat. He then bought a seat 
some distance away and gave the ticket to a friend, 
who came in just as the show was beginning. Col- 
lins now took the friend’s coupon, went to Hertz’s 
man and whispered, “Say, there’s been a mistake. 
We gave-you the wrong seat. The house manager 
says you’re to move over to this one” — presenting 
the coupon for the other seat. 

The man exchanged coupons with Collins and 
moved to the other place, Collins’s pal taking the 
vacated chair. Of course, when Hertz marched 
confidently down the aisle and plunged his hand 
into the pocket of the bogus assistant, there was no 
rabbit there. Distractedly he felt in the man’s other 
coat pockets. He dared not say anything. Perspira- 
208 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

tion stood on his face. It was evident to the spec- 
tators that his stunt had struck a snag; the gallery- 
gods began to jeer and make uncomplimentary re- 
marks. 

“I must apologize, ladies and gentlemen,” said 
Hertz at last in a shaking voice. “I have failed on 
that trick for the first time in my career.” He went 
back to the stage and closed his act hurriedly, 
ahead of time, fearing that in his agitation he 
might bungle another trick. 

Hawkins and Collins followed him on the bill ; 
and one of Collins’s first moves was to step to the 
front of the stage and say, “Now, ladies and gentle- 
men, I’ll show you how to finish that rabbit trick.” 
He then went through with a lot of comical mum- 
bo-jumbo, pretended to pull a coupon from his 
pocket and read the figures on it in an audible 
voice, “Row 7L, seat 23.” Striding down the run- 
way, he walked over to the place where Hertz’s 
man was sitting, wondering what in the deuce he 
was going to do with that live rabbit; thrust his 
hand into the capper’s pocket and brought the 
animal forth. As he went back to the stage Collins 
explained to the audience, “Mr. Hertz merely got 
his coupons mixed, that’s all.” 

Hertz’s hatred of him forever thereafter was 
simply poisonous. Collins died a few years later, 
before he had reached middle life. 


209 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

After loafing several weeks in New York I was 
given a tip by a theatrical agent named Fitzgerald 
who took an interest in me because of my real 
name being the same as his own (though he deeply 
deplored my having discarded it) . He sent me to 
Gilmore of the Grand Central, a variety house in 
Philadelphia, who gave me a limited engagement. 
I had played there four weeks when I heard that 
Gardiner & French, managers of the Carrie Swain 
company, then playing at the Chestnut Street 
Theatre, needed an eccentric, acrobatic comedian 
like myself, and I hurried over there and got the 
job; and thus I came to another turn in my for- 
tunes. 


210 



XVII 


Gardiner & French would not agree to pay me 
more than twenty dollars a week salary at the 
start, but promised me forty if I made good. Their 
play was an English farci-melodrama called Jack- 
in-the-Box — one of a variety very popular then; a 
medley of everything from near-tragedy to bur- 
lesque. Any of the characters in such a show was 
liable to pause at any moment and burst into song 
or do a specialty. 

The star was Carrie Swain, a blonde soubrette 
who was noted not only for ability as a comedienne 
but for her knack at throwing a flip-flop upon occa- 
sion. The hoyden or tomboy was a tremendously 
popular type on the stage then; Fanchon the 
Cricket, a rollicking lass of French origin, was fol- 
lowed by scores more of English and American 
make. I well remember when Minnie Maddern, 
now Mrs. Fiske, was playing that sort of part. 
This type was Carrie Swain’s forte. One admiring 
critic called her “an incessant little bundle of effer- 
vescence.” She had just finished a successful tour 
in a play called Cad the Tomboy, when she went 
down to Philadelphia to rehearse for Jack-in-the- 

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CLOWNING f H R O U G H LIFE 

Box. In the new piece she played a male part — a 
harum-scarum youth named Jack Merryweather ; 
and it is a singular thing that the more strait-laced 
of the critics and public could forgive her wearing 
male attire much more easily than they could her 
throwing a back flip. Feminine circles in many 
cities where we played were torn by the grave 
question, “Can a woman turn a somersault and be 
a lady?” 

On the morning after we appeared in New York 
one of the critics wrote : 

“ ‘The divine flip flaps’ is what some reckless 
Frenchman would call the style of drama that has 
broken out at the Union Square Theatre. An at- 
tractive young woman calling herself Carrie Swain 
undertakes to hold an assemblage and carry an en- 
tire drama by the flexibility of her backbone and 
her voice and the versatility of her legs and her 
talent. You are to imagine a robust young woman 
with a deal of that animal grace that is seen in a 
cat, and with a rich, mellow voice, who earns all 
her applause by trying to be as unwomanly as pos- 
sible. She sings a song at the footlights. It is in- 
tended to be pathetic. At the end of each verse she 
turns a handspring on the stage. Agility thus ac- 
complishes what ability will not. The whole ex- 
hibition is vulgar, coarse, and painful to good 
taste. . . .” But notwithstanding his disapproval the 
212 



CLOWNING THROUGH 


LIFE 


critic ruefully admits that “The girl will probably 
fill the Union Square with rude people for weeks.” 

Hugh Fay, formerly of Barry and Fay, was the 
leading man in the show. One of the scenes was 
supposed to represent an English fair with its 
numerous side shows, and here I did a stunt as a 
burlesque ballet dancer, with red tights and fluffy 
little skirt. After an engagement of several weeks 
we moved up to the Union Square Theatre in 
New York, then under the management of Shook 
and Collier, who had just taken it over from the 
famous manager, A. M. Palmer. I wasn’t given 
much notice when we opened there on February 
18, 1886. In the program the careful printer 
merely announced in small type that “In the Croy- 
den Fair scene Mr. E. Fry will give an Italian 
Burlesque Ballet.” 

At the time of our engagement Henry Irving 
was playing at a theatre near by. One evening, en- 
tirely as my own idea and without mentioning it to 
anybody, I donned my ballet costume but put on 
facial makeup and wig in imitation of Irving. 
When I came into the wings to make my entrance 
an English actor who saw me stared in horrified 
amazement. He recognized my intent and was 
shocked at my sacrilege. 

“If you go on like that,” he predicted, “they’ll 
mob you.” 


213 



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LIFE 


C L 0 H I N G 


But I went on like that, and instead of mobbing 
me the crowd howled with delight That makeup 
fairly halted the show. At the close of the per- 
formance Gardiner, the manager and Carrie 
Swain’s husband, came to me with ill-concealed 
anxiety in his face. 

“Now, listen!” said he. “You made a sort of a 
hit to-night with that fool outfit of yours, and there 
may be some fellows around here to-morrow trying 
to hire you away from us, but I think you ought to 
remember that we gave you your big chance. My 
partner, French, didn’t like you at first, but I put 
you on, anyhow, and I hope you’ll stand by me. 
Just to show you that my heart’s in the right place, 
I’m going to raise you to $75 a week.” 

“Mr. Gardiner, don’t worry,” said I, earnestly. 
“I’ll stay with you.” That seventy-five a week was 
the highest salary I had ever received. I began 
sending Mother a little extra money to make up 
for the recent long, lean period when I couldn’t 
send anything at all. Thereafter for many years, I 
never lacked a job. 

No company stayed very long in New York in 
those days. Later in the winter we toured a few 
Eastern cities, then did a hop, skip and jump across 
the continent to San Francisco, Miss Swain’s old 
home, where she was immensely popular. My 
pleasure at going back to the jolly old town was 
214 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

cankered by saddened memories of the wife and 
partner with whom I had had such good times 
there in earlier days. 

Frisco was the vacation Mecca for all actors 
who could get there, for because of the equable 
climate, theatres flourished there through the sum- 
mer as well as in winter; and there were always 
stock companies there who could almost have their 
pick of the country’s best players between May and 
September. 

We opened at the Bush Street Theatre on June 
7th in Cad the Tomboy. I played the comedy part 
of Thomas Burns. In spite of the fact that I had 
become rather well known to San Francisco, one 
or two newspaper writers at first showed a ten- 
dency to call me Mr. Edwin Fay. After a week 
there we moved over to the Alcazar, which was a 
stock-company theatre under the management of 
George Wallenrod. It was located on O’Farrell 
Street in the same building as was the Olym- 
pic Athletic Club. The Olympic was above the 
theatre. 

Stock companies in a city like San Francisco 
were operated in a manner entirely different from 
anything we know today. Now and then a travelling 
company would be taken on bodily at the stock 
theatre for an engagement of a week or so. Or 
perhaps the travelling star would have only part of 

215 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

a company or no company at all, depending upon 
the stock organization for support. Occasionally 
when a travelling company had an off week, some 
of its members might assist a local stock company. 
Troupes were quite fluid in those days, and flowed 
in and out of each other freely and as required. 

When Miss Swain had an off week, I went on 
with the Alcazar company. I spent some happy 
days with that stock company that summer and 
the next. It was a fine organization ; Jeffreys Lewis, 
who died a year or two ago aged sixty-nine, almost 
unknown to the younger generation, but a famous 
leading woman in her day; E. J. Buckley, Nick 
Long, L. R. Stockwell, George Osbourne, Laura 
Biggar — all names to conjure with in the Eighties 
and for some time thereafter. Buckley was one of 
the big leading men of his day. Later he was with 
Booth and Barrett, and many a time when those 
two great stars took a curtain call, they seized 
Buckley by the hand and drew him out on the 
stage with them. 

Miss Swain played three weeks at the Alcazar 
in June and July, on alternating weeks with the 
stock company, with whom I played between-times. 
One of their big hits that summer was A Desperate 
Game, in which Miss Lewis and Buckley played 
the leads, Stockwell, Long, Osbourne, Laura Big- 
gar, Kate Chester and I also appearing. In July 
216 





CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“Bonny Kate” Castleton came to the Alcazar to 
open her new play, Crazy Patch, and I played 
with her for the first time, assuming the role of 
Bill Smith, the lunatic, which I afterwards played 
for a whole season. Stockwell, Long and Osbourne 
also appeared in her support, and our old friend 
and California favorite, Charlie Reed, was her 
leading man, having the role of Felix McGlue, an 
Irish policeman. He made his entrance on roller 
skates ; and as the original roller-skating craze was 
then at its height, this made a tremendous hit. 

There was an interesting event in July of that 
summer, when all the actors then in the city joined 
in a testimonial to David Belasco. After achiev- 
ing considerable success as a director on the Coast, 
Belasco had gone East a short time before and 
made a good start on Broadway, But that summef 
he came back to Frisco to direct a stock company — 
practically an all-star organization including Rob- 
ert Mantell, Maurice Barrymore and others — 
which A1 Hayman had organized at the Baldwin 
Theatre. It was a popular idea then to get up 
“benefit” or “testimonial” performances for some 
well-liked director, actor, or even theatre treas- 
urer; and San Francisco was already so proud of 
Belasco that it responded heartily when Charles 
Bozenta (husband of Madame Modjeska), Barry- 
more and Clay M. Greene, the dramatist, as a com- 

217 



CLOWNING f H R 0 U G H LIFE 

mittee, arranged the benefit for the night of July 
18 th. 

It was a great program. The Alcazar company, 
headed by Jeffreys Lewis, played one act of Clo- 
thilde] the Baldwin company, with Maurice Bar- 
rymore, Joseph R. Grismer, Phoebe Davies and 
others, gave one act of Called Back, and the Shad- 
ows of a Great City company contributed one act 
of their play. In addition to this E. J. Buckley re- 
cited “’Ostler Joe,” Miss Swain did one of her 
acrobatic specialties, Barrymore, McKee Rankin 
and M. B. Curtis (famous as “Sam’l of Posen”) 
gave readings, and I did some imitations of prom- 
inent stars. It made me rather proud to be called 
upon to do a single act along with such distin- 
guished company. 

I received an offer that summer of a place for 
the coming season with George S. Knight, a well- 
known actor, one of whose favorite specialties was 
a German dialect part. Knight (whose real name 
was George Washington Sloan) had a play which 
Bronson Howard had written originally for Wil- 
liam J. Florence and his wife under the title. Only 
a Tramp. But Mrs. Florence did not like her part 
in the piece, and so it was rejected. Knight then 
bought the play from Howard and rechristened it 
Rudolph, later calling it Baron Rudolph. As a 
218 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

place in Knight’s company promised to extend my 
reputation more widely over the country, I ac- 
cepted the job. 

I was to report for duty in New York about the 
first of September. New York being a long way 
from San Francisco, I requested transportation 
money from Mr. Knight, and his manager sent me 
$100. 1 bade farewell to the Alcazar company with 
regret ; for there I had had some wonderfully val- 
uable experiences in real acting alongside some 
masters and mistresses of the art, 

I travelled eastward to Omaha, and between 
trains there I met a friend in whose company I was 
inveigled into bucking a faro game, with the re- 
sult that I wired Mr, Knight that evening, asking 
him to send another hundred dollars. He did so, 
and I journeyed on to Chicago. I found upon my 
arrival there that Mother needed some new clothes, 
which reminded me that my own wardrobe ought 
to be replenished a bit before I entered the presence 
of a star like Mr. Knight. I had become rather 
arrogant by this time and felt sure that he couldn’t 
get along without me, so I wired for another hun- 
dred. After I had done so, I experienced a sinking 
feeling in the stomach. Perhaps I had overstepped 
the limit of his patience, after all. But presently a 
letter came from his manager, enclosing a check, 

219 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

sarcastically hinting that the cost of travelling must 
have gone up considerably since he last saw the 
road, and requesting that I report at once. 

I took the next train east and went down to As- 
bury Park, where Knight had a summer home. 
When I came out on the veranda where he was sit- 
ting, he looked me up and down critically and with 
a simulation of great wonderment, and at length 
remarked : 

“I don’t know how good an actor you are — they 
tell me you’re all right; but I’ve learned one thing 
about you — ^you’re a darned good collector 1” 

His company opened in Boston in the fall, the 
first bill being a revival of a comedy in which he 
had already made a great success, Over the Garden 
Wall. Knight, as Julius Snitz, was in a state of 
intoxication through most of the play, and never 
failed to get uproarious laughter. I played the part 
of his nephew, the juvenile lead, and the critics 
generally spoke of my work as “successful.” Knight 
also had in his company the three famous St. Felix 
sisters, who were great favorites of that period. 

During most of that season we used Knight’s new 
play, Baron Rudolph, whose theme was similar in 
a general way to that afterwards used in The Music 
Master. Rudolph was a likable but unsuccessful 
man, petulantly cast off by his wife so that she 
might marry the heavy, a hard-hearted mill-owner, 
220 



CLOWNING ‘THROUGH LIFE 

rolling in wealth. Rudolph became a tramp and 
tasted the very dregs of bitterness, being roughly 
repulsed from the millionaire’s home when he 
begged for just a glimpse of his little daughter. 
But later he fell heir to a German title, recovered 
his wife and daughter and all ended happily. 

I may not be believed when I state that during 
the greater part of my engagement with Knight, I 
played the part of the stony-hearted captain of 
industry who had stolen Rudolph’s wife. I very 
nearly wrecked the show one night while in this 
role. One Jimmy Quinn, whom I had known with 
Carncross’s Minstrels, joined the show to play 
minor parts. To set forth my villainy more point- 
edly, the workmen in my mills were represented as 
being greatly oppressed and almost ready to strike. 
A spokesman was sent to me to plead for a redress 
of their wrongs. This spokesman was Jimmy 
Quinn. According to the script he entered where 
I sat reading a newspaper and said respectfully, 
“May I have a word with you, sir?” 

I looked up at him in cold amazement at his 
presumption. 

“I am sent by the men in the mill,” he went on, 
“to ask you, sir, if you will not consider our plea 
for better working conditions.” 

“This is neither the time nor the place for such 
matters,” I would reply, curtly — and so on. Re- 

221 



‘THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


member that in those days the actors were still fur- 
nishing their own costumes ; and the limitations of 
their wardrobes and their ideas of fitness some- 
times produced strange effects. Jimmy had been 
instructed to dress as a workingman, in flannel 


shirt, battered derby hat and with his coat over his 
arm. He had followed those instructions to the 
letter ; but for the rest of his outfit, he had dug into 
his minstrel wardrobe and donned possibly the 
only things he had — a pair of enormously baggy 
trousers in gaudy plaids about five inches across 
and huge comic minstrel shoes. When I looked up 
Ifrom my newspaper his appearance was so ludi- 
crous that I was seized with uncontrollable mirth. 
When he made his request for an interview I could 
not answer a word, but screened my face from the 
audience with the newspaper and shook with 
laughter. Jimmy became nervous; he waited, then 
cleared his throat and went through his request 
again, meanwhile begging me sotto voce to be 


calm : — 

“I am sent by the men (nix, Eddie!) to ask you, 
sir, if you will not consider our plea for better 
working conditions. (Brace up, Eddie, and gimme 
the line.) ” 

This only aggravated my mirth. I couldn’t utter 
a word. Jimmy was in panic. He stood a moment, 
perspiring copiously, then suddenly bawled out, 
222 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

“I am pursued! I am pursued!” and ran pell-mell 
ofif the stage. 

That sobered me like a douche of cold water; 
but no amount of gagging on my part could con- 
ceal the fact that the scene had slipped a cog. 

Knight reached San Francisco in May, 1887, 
and there, after playing a week or two with him, 
I went back to my old friends, the Alcazar Stock 
Company. This summer they had Frank Mor- 
daunt, another leading man famous in the East for 
many years thereafter. They also had Stockwell, 
Osbourne, George Trader, E. N. Thayer, Frank 
Richardson, Gustavus Levick, Charles G. Ray, 
Maude Granger, May Brandon, Fanny Bowman 
and Mrs. Kiskadden, known to the stage as Annie 
Adams — not to speak of an occasional appearance 
of the latter’s young daughter Maude, just back 
for the summer vacation from her school at Salt 
Lake City. 

Harbor Lights was the bill for the first week in 
June, and then came the great German comedian, 
Gus Williams, for a four weeks’ engagement, his 
entire support being from the Alcazar company. 
The bill for his first week was Oh, What a Night J 
in which I played the part of Henry Hobbs. For 
the second week the play was One of the Finest, 
in which I played Mort Devine. Captain Mishler 
was the third week’s bill and for the fourth he 

223 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

put on Kef pier’s Fortune. In this little Maude 
Adams, then aged about fifteen, had the ingenue 
part, and I was her sweetheart. Even at that early 
date there could be no doubt as to her great talent 
as an actress. 

We played to packed houses all through the 
Williams engagement. On July 11th we put on 
Bartley Campbell’s Siberia, which ran for two 
weeks. In this Mordaunt, Thayer, Levick, Os- 
bourne, Maude Granger, Annie Adams and others 
did some great work. Hobart Bosworth, later a 
popular leading man on Broadway and in more 
recent years a prominent screen actor but then a 
comparative youngster just beginning his career, 
played Governor Jarackoff. There was a place for 
a ballet in one of the scenes, and someone told 
Manager Wallenrod that he could get a dozen or 
more ballet girls from the stranded Carleton Opera 
Company at low rates. 

“Vat do I need mit ballet girls ven I’ve got 
Foy?” he countered ; and so, although the play was 
being given seriously, I filled in that gap with the 
burlesque ballet dance which I had done with 
Carrie Swain. It afforded what the modern movie 
director insists upon — “comic relief” — but I fear 
that a Broadway critic of today would have said 
that it was slightly out of key with the rest of the 
production. 

224 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

It was during those two summers in San Fran- 
cisco that I became acquainted with two men who 
in later years were among my dearest friends and 
are yet — ^James J. Corbett and William Jerome, 
the song writer, composer of “Sweet Rosie 
O’Grady,” “Bedelia,” and many other popular 
songs, as well as several musical comedies. I have 
already remarked that the Olympic Athletic Club 
was just above the Alcazar Theatre, and it was 
there that Corbett, then a young giant of about 
twenty, was beginning to show his athletic prow- 
ess. Even in his teens he had been so precociously 
large and mature that he was hobnobbing with 
men. He was a lover of the theatre and I of ath- 
letics. He remembered seeing me at the Adelphi 
and with Emerson several years before, and he 
saw everything at the Alcazar. I sparred many a 
round with him at the club, and he took me out 
to his home, where I became very chummy with 
his father and mother. I was a regular visitor to 
their home thereafter whenever I was in Frisco, 
and Jim likewise was frequently my guest in Chi- 
cago during my long stay there. 

Even in those kid days of his, Jim was telling 
his friends in all seriousness that in the near future 
he was going to take the world’s heavyweight 
championship away from John L. Sullivan; and 
after experiencing a few of his pile-driver wallops 

225 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


oa various portions of nay frame, I was ready to 
believe him. Billy Jerome was another convert. He 
and I became Corbett’s leading unofficial press 
agents, and touted him far and wide in the face 
of much unbelief. When Jim actually defeated the 
great John L. in 1892, Billy and I made ourselves 
nuisances to all and sundry with our “I told you 
so’s,” and reminders of how we had been predict- 
ing this for at least five years. 

Jerome, then just beginning his career, used to 
take Jim and me out into the parks in Frisco to 
try out his latest ideas on us. “Listen, boys,” he 
would say. “How do you like this?” and he would 
sing a stanza or two. 

“Great 1” we would comment, enthusiastically. 
“It’ll knock ’em cold!” We were a perfect little 
mutual admiration society, each agreeing that the 
other was the best in his class. And now, after a 
forty-years’ test of our friendship, I can add that 
Jerome and Corbett are two of the most lovable 
men and most thorough gentlemen I have ever 
known. Clay M. Greene, the dramatist, was an- 
other good friend whom I acquired in those early 
Frisco days. He later wrote the lines for some of 
the big Henderson productions in which I played 
in Chicago. 

I was Corbett’s witness when he signed the 
agreement to light Sullivan; and of course I sat 
226 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


up anxiously (I was then in Chicago)' awaiting 
news from the battle. When it came I turned a 
few cartwheels, but my mother, who was an old 
lady of strong prejudices, looked very glum. 

“What’s the matter, Mother?” I demanded. 
“Why don’t you give three cheers for my friend 
Corbett?” 

She looked at me solemnly. “To think of it!” 
she mourned. “A Mayo man licked a Kerry man!” 
She was uncompromisingly loyal to the old county 
which had given birth to John L. and herself. 

I can get a laugh yet out of the memory of the 
night when Corbett and I, in the presence of sev- 
eral other friends in the Congress Hotel in Chi- 
cago, got to bantering each other, and finally 
wagered, each that the other would not have the 
nerve to jump in the lake with his clothes on, just 
as he stood. 

The dare having been taken up by both of us, 
the matter had to be settled at once, so the whole 
party hustled across Michigan Avenue, climbed 
over or through three or four strings of freight 
cars standing on the Illinois Central sidings, and 
went out on a pier. I wore an inexpensive pongee 
suit, but Jim, the blamed scoundrel, had on his 
best all-wool clothes, and had no intention what- 
soever of jumping in the lake; he preferred to pay 
the bet. 


227 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Well, we two lined up right on the edge of the 
pier, squatted and swung arms while someone 
counted, “one, two, three!” In I went with a thun- 
derous splash, but not so James J. Instead, he gave 
me a loud haw-haw. When the others saw his game, 
two of them tried to push him in, but he got away 
and outran them to shore. That was one occasion 
when I was plumb sore on Jim Corbett. When I 
crawled out of the lake, wet as a drowned rat, I 
would have licked him if I had been big enough. 

But I am getting far away from Frisco in ’87. 
I had a good offer that summer from the Kate 
Castleton company, which expected to play Crazy 
Patch again during the coming season. Miss Castle- 
ton wanted me to take the comedy part of Bill 
Smith, the lunatic, which I had played with her 
for one week at the Alcazar the previous summer. 
I accepted and opened the season with her at St. 
Paul, August 29th, 1887. Miss Castleton was an 
English girl, very beautiful and winsome and less 
vigorous in her methods than Carrie Swain. She 
had enjoyed great popularity in this country for 
three or four years. Two songs which she sang 
Avhile I travelled with her became big popular 
hits — “For Goodness’ Sake, Don’t Say I Told 
You!” and “‘Will You Walk into my Parlor?’ 
Said the Spider to the Fly.” Miss Castleton died, 
still comparatively young, only a few years later. 
228 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

It was while playing that part in Crazy Patch 
that I began using more and more the clownish 
manner, makeup and business which characterized 
my work in the extravaganzas and musical com- 
edies of the many years which followed. In fact, it 
was that winter that I made a country- wide repu- 
tation as an eccentric farceur. We had a very suc- 
cessful winter, and in the course of our travels 
reached Chicago early in the spring. We had 
played a week or two there when David Hender- 
son, then planning the second of the big musical 
spectacles which made him famous, asked for an 
interview with me. He informed me that he had 
just seen me in action, and would like to engage 
me to play leading comedy parts in his company. 
I accepted, and thus began another era in my 
career. 


229 




xviir 


David Henderson was a clever, canny Scotch- 
man who had been a prominent dramatic critic in 
this country — ^mostly in Chicago — for many years, 
and at length created something of a sensation, not 
only by becoming a producer, but by the novelty 
and magnitude of his productions. Furthermore, he 
had excited admiration of his nerve (on the part 
of Eastern commentators, at least) by locating these 
rather colossal creations in Chicago, instead of 
New York. He gave America something new — 
great extravaganzas based upon old nursery and 
Arabian Nights’ legends. The idea was being de- 
veloped in England from the old Christmas pan- 
tomimes, but Henderson endeavored to make his 
productions even more gorgeous and costly than 
the English ones. The first one of the scries, Alad- 
din, or the Wonderful Lamp, was in progress when 
he engaged me, but was just about to be superseded 
by the second one, The Crystal Slipper. 

Henderson’s plan was to open a new production 
in Chicago at the beginning of the summer, run 
it there until fall or early winter and then send it 
on tour. The Crystal Slipper opened at the Chi- 

231 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

cago opera House about the first of June, 1888. 
The old-timers and the folk now middle-aged who 
saw it as children will recall that it was a bur- 
lesqued and elaborated version of the story of Cin- 
derella. In it Cinderella (played by Marguerite 
Fish) was represented as a little slavey in the 
kitchen of the castle of the Baron von Anthracite 
(R. E. Graham), and her only friends being the 
Baron’s valet, Yosemite (myself) and Thomas Cat, 
played by the famous animal impersonator George 
Ali, who spent almost his entire career inside a 
caricatured imitation of some animal’s skin. 

The Prince (whose name was for the first time 
revealed by our librettist as having been Polydore 
von Prettiwitz) was played during a portion of 
the run by May Yohe, a lady who was very much 
in the public eye for several years because of 
her matrimonial and other exploits, occasionally 
among the European nobility. For a time she was 
the wife of Lord Francis Hope and wore the 
famous Hope diamond, regarding which so many 
fanciful yarns were written. Louise Montague, 
generally regarded as one of the greatest beauties 
of her time — and a fine woman as well — also 
played the Prince for a while, likewise appearing 
in some of the other Henderson productions. 

Two comedians who made a decided hit in this 
show were James E. Sullivan and Flarry Kelly as 
232 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the court flunkies. There began for me a long asso- 
ciation with Jimmy Sullivan which lasted through 
many other troupes and plays, and a close friend- 
ship which has persisted to this day, when Jimmy 
is my not very distant neighbor on the Boston Post 
Road. 

It may surprise some folks today when I assure 
them that we achieved many beautiful lighting 
effects in those productions of nearly forty years 
ago. I myself was astonished even then to learn 
that the first one to attempt the use of electricity 
in a spectacular way was Dion Boucicault, and that 
he did it as far back as 1873. His stunt was the use 
of electrically charged wands which were to give 
forth lightning-like flashes when ballet girls 
touched them to each other. But the girls of that 
day were of course wholly ignorant of the tricks 
of electricity, and they handled their wands so 
carelessly that some of them received shocks which 
fairly knocked them off their feet; whereupon they 
flatly refused to have any more to do with the vil- 
lainous stuff. 

Ten, yes, even fifteen and twenty years after Edi- 
son invented the incandescent light in 1878, many 
theatres were still lighted by gas or by several of 
those big old, flickering, chattering arc lights. But 
the incandescent lamp opened up some wonderful 
possibilities for stage lighting, and Henderson ex- 

233 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

pcrimented with it to the very limit of the knowl- 
edge of his time, though for brilliant effects he 
still depended largely on the so-called calcium 
light. There were some gorgeous stage pictures in 
his plays such as are very seldom seen nowadays. 
Even as early in his series as The Crystal Slipper, 
the “Transcendental Transformations,” so called, 
would be matters of pride to a producer of 1926 — 
“The Hall of Time,” “The Fairy Wishbone,” 
“Cupid’s Clock,” “The Wondrous Fan” and the 
“Prismatic Marble Fountains” for example; not 
to speak of such group performances as the Dolls’ 
Quadrille, the Mother Goose Divertisements 
(Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Jack and Jill, 
Little Boy Blue, Little Bo-Peep, A Frog He 
Would a-Wooing Go, etc.) and the Grand Banquet 
Ballet, with its triumphal entry of the animated 
gold and silver Knives and Forks, Cups, Flagons 
and Epergnes, the Menu printed on Satin, the 
Oysters on the Half Shell, the Ice Cream (Cherry 
and Pistachio, Lemon and Chocolate), the Cham- 
pagne Sec, Chartreuse, Cafe Noir and so on. 

With costs as they are today, a producer seldom 
cares to attempt anything like that even for a New 
York run ; and as for sending such a thing on the 
road — as Henderson did all his shows, with a per- 
sonnel of two hundred or more — it would lose hun- 
dreds, perhaps thousands of dollars a day. Morris 
234 




Eddie Foy as Cassim in “An Baba” 




clowning through life 

Gest’s Mecca, some five or six years ago, was the 
last venture along this line; even it was not as 
elaborate as the Henderson shows, and Mr. Gest 
has not cared to tackle anything of the kind since. 

From the time when I entered the Henderson 
company, I used the clownish facial makeup which 
became a sort of trademark with me. My funmak- 
ing in The Crystal Slipper seemed to go over with 
a bang from the very beginning. Henderson would 
agree to give me only $65 a week at the start. One 
month later he raised the figure without warning 
to $150. The following year when we put on Blue- 
beard he jumped it to $250 — ^still later to $350 — 
but enough of that for the present. At last I was 
tasting real success, and I had hard work to keep 
it from going to my head. If I was a bit exuberant 
and caused the story to get out that I was hard to 
manage, there was some excuse for me in the fact 
that I was experiencing an irresistible reaction 
from my poverty-stricken boyhood and youth and 
those years when I was plugging along in the con- 
cert halls, physically comfortable but spiritually 
unsatisfied. 

As The Crystal Slipper was succeeded by Blue- 
beard, Sinbad and Ali Baba, with occasional re- 
vivals of the earlier numbers interspersed, I could 
not but be happy in a success which, though in an 
unexpected line, was of a quality and completeness 

235 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

such as I had hoped for and dreamed of since boy- 
hood; not only financial success, but the ecstatic 
laughter of grown-ups and little children and the 
admission of critics that “I don’t know why I laugh 
at him, but I do;” all just as legitimate matters of 
pride to the comedian as are the breathless silence 
and the thunderous applause which reward the 
exponents of tragedy. I savored the joy of being able 
to move thousands to laughter merely by a gesture, 
a twist of the countenance. I learned to feel an 
audience’s pulse, as it were, and when I had them 
laughing hilariously, to prolong it just by walking 
across the stage with that slow swagger and sad 
grin which had become sort of copyrighted ges- 
tures of mine. 

In the first flush of this success I was married 
again — and once more to an actress; a beautiful 
girl named Lola Sefton who stole out with me 
quietly one day in Cincinnati and became my wife. 
I bought a home in Chicago for my mother — a 
comfortable and really handsome place, finer than 
any she had ever lived in before. She was still half- 
seriously, half-jcstingly inclined to deride my style 
of acting, and could not believe that such foolery 
would hold the public’s favor for very long. But 
when my back was turned, she was my ardent and 
unflinching champion. 

I invited her and my sister to see the show one 
236 



c L O W R I N G 


THROUGH 


L 1 F E- 


night; I think it was while we were playing Sin- 
bad. Mother happened to sit next to two young 
men who didn’t admire my work and who roasted 
me unsparingly. 

“How does this fellow Foy get his vogue?” they 
asked each other, “Why, they’re naming hats and 
cigars after him 1 1 can’t figure it out. He’s terrible ! 
Just walks around and grins like an idiot,” etc., etc. 

Mother stood it as long as she could. Finally, 
bursting with indignation but restraining herself 
nobly, she turned to them and said with great dig- 
nity, “Gentlemen — that’s my son ye’re talking 
about. You may not like him, but I want to tell you 
that he’s a good boy and has never forgotten his 
mother and sisters. He has taken care of us or 
helped to do it almost ever since he was a child. 
I don’t know how good an actor he is, but I do 
know that he’s a good sonl” 

And that was that. The flabbergasted young men 
stammered an apology, and uttered not another 
word during the evening. 

After the show I took Mother and Mary to sup- 
per, and spared no expense to make it a fine one. 
When the waiter brought in a silver pail full of 
cracked ice with a bottle reposing therein, Mother 
asked, “What’s that?” 

“Champagne!” I told her; and then as she sipped 
it critically, “Three dollars a bottle.” 


237 



c L O W N. I N G THROUGH LIFE 

“To think of it!” she exclaimed, setting her glass 
down and looking disapprovingly at it. “Such ex- 
travagance ! Better be saving your money, Eddie, 
while it’s coming. Make hay while the sun shines. 
Some day soon they’ll find ye out, and then this 
big income will stop.” 

She failed not to tease me on many occasions 
about these matters. On Christmas Day shortly 
thereafter I was at her home, and Mary, who had 
just compounded the Yuletide egg-nog, invited me 
to join her in a glass. 

“Egg-nog!” exclaimed Mother in good-natured 
sarcasm. “Is it egg-nog ye’re offering that fine gen- 
tleman? Don’t you know he drinks nothing but 
champagne — at three dollars the bottle?” 

It was always a mooted question in Chicago, 
when a new Henderson show was opened, as to 
whether or not it was better than the last one. At 
least there must be little or no excuse given to say 
it wasn’t just as good; so Henderson and his co- 
workers were kept busy cudgelling their brains and 
scouring Europe for new ballets, new ideas in cos- 
tumes, new effects. In Bluebeard, which followed 
The Crystal Slipper, the settings and costuming 
were if possible more gorgeous than in the former 
productions. In the wedding scene of Bluebeard 
and Fatima, two hundred persons appeared, most 
of them in shining armor. The great finale, “Truth 
238 



CLOWNING THROUGH L I F B 

and Light,” the grand ballet, “The Light of Asia,” 
the Ballet of Birds and Insects, the “Glittering 
Grotto of Fantastic Fancy,” wherein appeared 
Jack the Giant Killer, Puss in Boots, the Babes in 
the Wood, and Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe 
and other nursery notables, were all remarkable 
creations. 

In the latter group a number of children were 
used. When the show reached New York on tour, 
the Gerry Society prohibited our letting the chil- 
dren appear; so the giant shoe, from which a 
swarm of little ones had been wont to appear was 
wheeled on the stage empty, with a placard on its 
side announcing that “The little children are pro- 
hibited by order of Elbridge T. Gerry” — ^towards 
whom the audience at once manifested its displeas- 
ure in emphatic manner. 

Frank B. Blair had the part of Bluebeard, 
Arthur Dunn was Mufti, I was O’Mahdi Benzini, 
father of Fatima, Edith Murilla played Fatima, 
Esther Williams, (who had been with me at the 
Alcazar in San Francisco) and later Topsy Venn, 
played Ayesha. Willie Collier and Jimmy Sulli- 
van, as Asta Gazonda and Asta Gazoof, the twin 
chiefs of police, won many laughs. Later Lee Har- 
rison took Collier’s place. 

One can to a certain extent trace history, fash- 
ions and scientific progress by the songs and jokes 

239 



c L 0 W N I I^ G THROUGH LIFE 

in the comedies of successive periods. Just at the 
moment I was thinking of my “Nickel in the Slot” 
song in Bluebeard, Slot machines, into which you 
dropped a coin and from which thereupon you 
drew various commodities, from the playing of a 
phonograph record to a stick of chewing gum, had 
just been invented and were still something of a 
curiosity, especially in the smaller towns. 

It’s a terrible thing to be a critic ; it gives one 
so many opportunities for saying idiotic things. 
For delicious condescension springing from a de- 
lightfully fallacious presumption of superiority, 
the remarks of the critic of the New York Sun 
when we opened at Niblo’s that winter constitute 
a classic : — 

“The Chicago gentlemen who conceived and 
capitalized Bluebeard, Jr., came into the metropo- 
lis with a fear that their spectacle might be con- 
demned by the critics solely on account of its West- 
ern origin. In this they were foolish. New York 
is eminently courteous and kind. The Chicago 
spectacle is gorgeous to extravagance, and though 
it lacks the refinement of taste which would natur- 
ally characterize an Eastern production, it still 
compels admiration and encouragement.” 

Now, setting aside the question whether Chi- 
cago’s taste was necessarily lower than New York’s, 
240 





CLOWNING <r H R O U G H LIFE 


let US see just why the production must necessarily 
have that raw Western flavor. 

As a matter of fact, the only Western taint that 
could possibly be found in it was the libretto, writ- 
ten by Clay Greene of California. The music was 
furnished by John Braham, Fred J. Eustis and 
Richard Maddern, who wrote many of the things 
which sprang into being in New York. The scen- 
ery was painted by Voegtlin, Hoyt, and Albert, 
three of the greatest in America and all in Eastern 
studios. The costumes and armor were designed 
by Arthur Chasemore of London, who had for 
years been doing the same for England’s great 
spectacles. The costumes were made by Dazian, 
New York’s great theatrical costumer, and the 
armor was made by Kennedys of Birmingham, 
England. The dances were arranged by M. Bibey- 
ran, prominent European ballet master, and Rich- 
ard Barker, who had staged all the Gilbert and 
Sullivan operas from Pinafore to Yeoman of the 
Guard, and later had been staging the big London 
pantomimes, came over from England each year 
to direct not only Bluebeard but all the other Hen- 
derson shows. For some of the spectacles — Sinbad 
and Alt Baba, for example — the costumes all came 
from England and the armor from France. 

The two burlesques just named followed Blue- 

241 . 



LITE 


C L 0 W'Tf I N G THROUGH 

beard, interspersed with revivals of the earlier 
plays. AU Baba; or Morgiana and the Forty 
Thieves was noteworthy because of its holding the 
boards in Chicago during the World’s Columbian 
Exposition in 1893, when it probably had a greater 
and more varied attendance than any of the other 
Henderson shows. Exposition visitors considered 
it as important that summer to visit the Chicago 
Opera House and see Alt Baba as to visit the Mid- 
way or the Palace of Varied Industries. 

That exposition, the most colossal that America 
had yet seen, drew visitors from every corner of 
the continent. An exposition was a greater event 
in our lives then than it is now. Hundreds of people 
from the West came to see me that summer, many 
old friends from Frisco or Dodge or the mining 
camps who formerly knew me as Eddie, but some 
of whom now exhibited an embarrassed tendency 
to call me Mr. Foy, and others whom I did not 
recall, informing me that “I saw you in Leadville 
in ’79” — or in Butte or Denver or Tombstone. To 
many village dwellers who seldom or never saw a 
real play in their ordinary routine, AH Baba was 
a life’s high-water mark. And it was a beautiful 
and wondrous spectacle — the gorgeous Ballet of 
Jewels, the Monster of the Cavern, a great dragon 
which crawled across the stage, the waterfall of 
real water which cascaded down over waterproof 
242 



c L O W.N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

canvas rocks, the curtain of steam rising from jets 
near the footlights — all these were things to be 
marvelled at, even by city dwellers. But after more 
than thirty years I still meet people whose pleas- 
antest recollection of the show seems to be that of 
having heard me, “during that summer of the 
World’s Fair,” sing “The Cat Came Back.” 

Of course story and characterization didn’t, as 
a rule, count very strongly in these shows. In this 
one I played Cassim, a vagabond, Ali Baba’s 
brother. Henry Norman, a fine basso, played 
Arraby Gorrah, Chief of the Bagdad Police; Joe 
Doner was Alibazan, “the best Caliph Bagdad 
ever had, elected on the platform, ‘The Forty 
Thieves must go:’” George Ali this time repre- 
sented a donkey; and when he got me down and 
trampled me and I remarked, “That’s a horse on 
me I” great was the laughter at this comic picturi- 
zation of a popular slang phrase of the period. It 
was in Ali Baba that I sang one of the earliest of 
Charles K. Harris’s songs to reach the stage. Soon 
after that he wrote “After the Ball” and became 
famous. 

In the fall of ’93, just as the exposition was clos- 
ing, Sinbad was revived, and ran through the win- 
ter at home and on tour. We had a fine cast — 
Henry Norman as Snarleyyow, Joseph Doner as 
the Old Man of the Sea, W. M. Armstrong, Louise 

243 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

.Royce, Frankie Raymond, Ada Deaves and others. 
Jimmy Sullivan came back to us, and he and I did 
a turn in blackface as the Queen and King of the 
Cannibal Isles, in the course of which we sang the 
popular song, “Mamie, Come Kiss Your Honey 
Boy.” Other famous songs in that show which 
middle-aged folk will recall with wistful reminis- 
cence were “She Never Cares to Wander,” “When 
Summer Comes Again,” “The Pride of the Ball,” 
and “Back Among the Old Folks.” 

It is amusing to read now in my old clippings, 
a stray critical reference here and there to the 
“scantiness” of costume in the chorus of those 
shows. When it is remembered that no chorus girl 
of the Nineties ever appeared without the body and 
limbs covered — the latter at least by tights, the 
former by something slightly more substantial; 
when we are reminded that a single bare leg in 
those days would have brought the police on the 
run and possibly closed the show, we may be cer- 
tain that just one glimpse of the nudities on Broad- 
way today would have caused a dramatic critic of 
thirty years ago to fall in a dead faint. 


244 



XIX 


The year 1 894 was an unpleasantly eventful one 
for me. In the spring that rather hard-boiled gen- 
tleman, Mr. Henderson, and I quarrelled as a 
result of my suggestion for a raise in salary, and 
my six years’ service with him came to an end. 
When Henderson made a decision and announced 
it, adamant was thereafter like custard pie as com- 
pared with him. For my part, I had no qualms of 
conscience. I had given him my best. In proof 
thereof I have in my scrap book at least two news- 
paper articles written at divers times thereafter, 
in which dramatic critics in a reminiscent mood 
remark that “Foy made a fortune for Henderson 
in Chicago.” Dramatic critics may make slight 
errors in judgment sometimes, but in this case I 
am convinced that these astute and scholarly gen- 
tlemen knew what they were talking about. It 
might appear invidious in me to point out that the 
Henderson extravaganzas didn’t prosper nor con- 
tinue long after I left the company, so I won’t 
mention it. 

Those six years had been years of unqualified 
success, even of triumph; years of freedom from 

245 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

business or financial worry — save on certain occa- 
sions when I picked the wrong horse. I was now 
destined to have a few years of not quite so easy 
sledding. 

Some Chicago capitalists at once began organiz- 
ing a company to produce spectacular musical com- 
edies on a slightly less pretentious scale with myself 
as the star. A comedy was written for us by John 
Gilbert and christened “Off the Earth,” the scene 
of the action being laid in (or on — ^which is it?) the 
moon. We took with us several players who had 
appeared in the Henderson shows — Louise Mon- 
tague, Joe Doner, Kate Uart, a statuesque beauty 
whose unfortunate surname was usually twisted by 
the compositors into Mart or Hart, sometimes even 
Nart; George Ali, who in the new piece was to 
masquerade in a lion’s skin, and others. 

The backers of the new show determined to do 
the thing up brown by importing scenery, costumes 
and dancers from Europe ; and I was delegated as 
the connoisseur to go over and select them. I 
accordingly set sail from New York late in June, 
not without some misgivings, for my first voyage 
on the ocean. 

I was much cheered to find that the genial Nat 
Goodwin was one of my fellow passengers, X began 
to experience qualms which seemed to indicate 
246 



CLOWNING, THROUGH LIFE 

seasickness on the first evening out, when we were 
scarcely out of sight of American shores, and Nat, 
learning of it, took me down to his stateroom, 
which he shared with a Brooklyn man, to give me 
a preventive. He had a remarkable medicine and 
first aid chest made of mahogany, inlaid, which 
he said had cost $250. It was fitted up with row 
upon row of vials full of liquids and powders. 
Most of the powders which I observed were white 
in color. 

‘'One has to be careful about this dosing busi- 
ness,” explained Nat, as he fingered over the bot- 
tles. “Now this ” and he lifted one of the vials 

of white powder, “would send you scooting up the 
golden stairs, pronto.” 

“What the deuce have you got such a thing in 
your medicine cabinet forP” I demanded in some 
anxiety. 

“It’s necessary,” he declared. “It’s strychnine; 
and taken in small quantities, strychnine is an ex- 
cellent stimulant when the heart action is weak. 
But beware taking too much.” 

He selected another vial of white stuff and said, 
“Here ; a little of this will settle your stomach and 
ward off your seasickness.” 

I was a bit skittish. Nat was not only so notorious 
a joker that he was quite capable of feeding me 

247 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ipecac, but he was also a fallible human being, and 
I wanted him to be careful and certain as to what 
he was giving me. 

“You take a dose of it first,” I stipulated, “and 
I’ll join you.” 

Though somewhat contemptuous at my skepti- 
cism, he measured out nearly a teaspoonful of the 
stuff, and under my close inspection, dissolved it 
in a glass of water and drank it. I thereupon did 
the same. 

After talking to him a while, I went up into the 
main saloon. I was sitting there reading about half 
an hour later when suddenly Goodwin’s roommate 
came rushing by with anxiety depicted on his face. 

“Have you seen the ship’s doctor?” he asked. 

“What’s the matter?” I exclaimed, though I had 
premonitions already. 

“Goodwin’s dreadfully ill,” said he. “Sort of 
convulsions.” 

“Good Lordl” I moaned. “Just as I expected 1 
Now he’s poisoned himself, and what’s worse, he’s 
poisoned me, too.” 

I suddenly noticed that I had unmistakable 
symptoms of illness — had had them for several 
minutes. I got to my feet with difficulty and tot- 
tered to my stateroom. Falling into my berth I sent 
an urgent call for the doctor. Why had I been so 
sapheaded as to swallow that stuff at the direction 
248 



CLOWNING 


THROUGH 


LIFE 


of a bungling idiot like Nat Goodwin? What could 
he have given me? Prussic acid, like as not. Served 
him right if he passed out. His demise would mean 
no loss to society, but I felt that my own would be 
highly untimely just at that moment — ^me on that 
important mission and all. 

Meanwhile, I was getting rid of my dinner and 
seemingly everything else I had eaten for weeks 
past, I fancied that my convulsions closely re- 
sembled those of Goodwin. Why in Heaven’s name 
didn’t that doctor come? Ah, here he was after 
hours of delay I 

‘What’s the matter?” he inquired, casually. 

“I’m dying, doc,” I whispered. “Nat Goodwin 
poisoned me — ^by accident, of course.” 

“What’s that? he snapped, with a startled look 
on his face. 

I reported the circumstance. 

“He didn’t mention that to me,” said the doctor. 
“Just wait a minute,” and he ran down the corridor 
to Goodwin’s stateroom. In three or four minutes 
he came back. 

“Is he dead?” I asked. 

“Dead I Hell, no I Neither of you chumps is 
going to die. You’re too tough I” 

“What did he give me?” 

“Nothing in the world but bicarbonate of soda.” 

“Are you sure?” 


249 



c L O W, N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

“Positive!” 

“Then what’s the matter with him?” 

“Just common seasickness.” 

“And me?” 

“The same, plus imagination.” 

“His remedy wasn’t worth a cuss, then?” 

“A darned sight less than that.” 

I was somewhat comforted in mind, but my 
bodily affliction didn’t subside for two days there- 
after. It was a great satisfaction to me to find, how- 
ever, that Nat was in worse case than I was. He 
was barely able to stagger on deck just as we were 
coming in sight of port. 

Having been in London before, Nat undertook 
to show me around a bit, and accumulated a fine 
store of yarns to tell on me when he came back. 
I own up to the yellow shoes on the night he took 
me to dinner at a fashionable club; never having 
been a social lion, I didn’t possess any patent leath- 
ers ; but I hereby take occasion to deny the rest of 
the calumnies that he perpetrated about me, no 
matter whether I’ve yet heard them all or not. 

I ordered a quantity of scenery and costumes in 
London, and engaged thirty-five ballet girls for 
our show. Some may wonder why we couldn’t get 
these people in America, The fact is that we 
wanted dancers skilled in pantomime — to a certain 
extent interpretative dancers. England surpassed 
250 





CLOWNING 


'THROUGH 


LIFE 


US in that art at the time, and as far as our musical 
comedy choruses are concerned, probably does it 
yet. Incidentally, one of those girls whom I 
brought over married Joe Doner, the actor, and 
became the mother of Kitty Doner. I therefore 
claim some small portion of the credit for the pres- 
ent existence of a very charming artist and woman. 

From London I went over to Paris, and was met 
at the railway station by the American billiard 
players, Schaeffer, Ives, and Catton, who were then 
conducting a French invasion. Billiards has always 
been my favorite indoor sport; when in Chicago 
I was in the habit of spending a great deal of my 
spare time around Jake Schaeffer’s and other lead- 
ing halls, and was acquainted with all the best 
players in America. In Paris I watched some great 
billiard tournaments, conducted in circular amphi- 
theatres, with bookmakers going through the 
crowd, taking bets on the competing players, just 
as if it had been a horse race. From Paris I made 
a hurried trip through Switzerland to Italy, where 
I had some special properties made at Milan, and 
engaged two Italian star dancers, one of them being 
Madeline Morando, a remarkable artist and a fine 
woman, who had been premiere danseuse in the 
Henderson company through several productions, 
but had left it some time before and gone home 
to Italy, 


2S1 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

We opened our new show with great eclat early 
in the fall, and critics and public were very kind 
to us; but I was destined to suffer another blow 
before the year was out. My wife presented me 
with a daughter whom we named Catherine; but 
the shock was too much for the mother, and she 
died a short time afterwards. My sister Mary took 
charge of the baby, and for years thereafter gave 
her a real maternal love and care. She deserves 
most of the credit for making Catherine the fine 
woman she is. 

My wife’s death took the heart out of my work 
for a time; but the comedian is never allowed to 
sorrow long. The funeral baked meats are not cold 
before he must be back with painted face, grimac- 
ing under the spotlight, and woe be unto him if 
he fails to make the patrons laugh I 

Off the Earth was an exquisite spectacle to the 
eye, but it did not have sufficient originality — 
suificient genius, let us say — to insure it a great suc- 
cess. Nevertheless, we made a fairly good season 
out of it. 

At the beginning of the following summer niy 
backers launched a new production, Little Robin- 
son Crusoe, a broad burlesque of Defoe’s story; 
and it cannot be said that they didn’t assemble an 
able cast. Adeic Farrington played Crusoe and 
Frank H, White, Friday, Marie Dressier was 
252 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Ophelia Crusoe, landlady of a summer hotel; 
Marie Cahill was Polly Perkins, a soubrette role, 
Jimmy Sullivan was Hockstein, a pawnbroker, 
Henry Norman was Tuffanuff, a very heavy pirate, 
while I represented Dare-Devil Willie, another 
breed of pirate. I made a novel entrance in the 
first act, coming in on a canal boat drawn by a 
donkey, which was ridden by a diminutive picka-- 
ninny. I had a song which became famous in those 
days — “Let Me Off at Buffalo.” Another song hit 
was sung by a boy in the gallery who was supposed 
to have been hypnotized from the stage — “Only 
One Girl in This World for Me.” 

I had by this time built up a clientele through- 
out the country and especially in the middle West, 
who liked my work and came to see me without 
always inquiring particularly in advance about the 
show. Some hint of the attitude of this following 
may be found in a criticism of Little Robinson 
Crusoe in the Indianapolis Journal. The writer 
complains that my entrance at the beginning of 
the play was delayed too long-— and goes on: 

“This defect should be remedied before the show 
is a week older. In the towns where Foy has become 
a drawing card, as he has undoubtedly in this city, 
the curiosity of every one is keyed up and all are 
anxious to see the buffoon solitaire and what new 
outlandish dress he may choose to appear in. An 

253 



THROUGH 


LIFE 


CLOWNING 


audience may enjoy an opening chorus and find a 
certain delight in admiring the beautifully cos- 
tumed chorus girls or listening to a brief intro- 
duction of the story of the extravaganza, but the 
one great feature they come to see is Foy, and he 
should be shot on the stage at the very earliest 
opportunity. 

“Consistency doesn’t matter, as was demonstrated 
in Off the Earth, furthermore, no one expects any- 
thing consistent from Foy. Let there be a ghost of 
a reason for anything he may do, and it is robbed 
of half its charm. Foy, unadulterated and bubbling 
over with his original clownishness, is a show all 
in himself. He is full of surprises. His acts strike 
one suddenly, in effect similar to that produced by 
touching the spring of those little Christmas boxes 
that contain a painted jumping-jack. His stage face 
reminds one of a cat suffering with colic, and the 
more misery he puts into it, the more the people 
laugh. There is only one such on the American 
stage. In his line the Chicago burlcsquer stands 
alone and unapproached. It is for these reasons that 
he should be allowed to introduce himself early. 
One ridiculous song from Foy, and then the thirsty 
seekers for amusement are content to let the show 
go on apace, giving the other characters a chance.” 

That Cincinnati was another of my middle- 
Western strongholds is proven by the following 
254 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

regarding thie same play from the Commercial 
Gazette of September 23d, ’95 : 

“ . . . Foy’s battered phiz had scarcely become 
visible when a burst of applause came from all 
parts of the house, in volume and continuance the 
most astonishing heard in a Cincinnati theatre since 
the opening of the season. It is a welcome that 
might well be termed an ovation, and the over- 
pleased comedian was kept bowing for many min- 
utes before he dared attempt the speaking of his 
lines. Account for it any way you will, the fact 
remains that Mr. Foy is the most popular comedian 
who makes his annual curtsey to the Cincinnati 
public. No such demonstration as that of last night 
has ever followed the appearance of any star or 
favorite within recent years.” 

But the critic then goes on to say that the play 
which followed was something of a disappoint- 
ment. I suffered no little detriment about this time 
from inadequate vehicles. Little Robinson Crusoe 
received some high praise here and there through- 
out the country, but it was not a highly successful 
effort It closed at the end of 1895, after a career 
of about seven months. I then made a mistake by 
going out in a play called The Strange Adventures 
of Miss Brovon, in which I masqueraded for a por- 
tion of the time as a woman. The less said about 
that affair, the better. 


255 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

I had felt all along that the idea and the setting 
of Off the Earth had never had a fair chance, and 
so, in the fall of 1896 I promoted a revival of it, 
Jimmy Sullivan and I — along with others — invest- 
ing some cash in it. We used the scenery and effects 
of the former production, but endeavored to 
brighten up the music and the book.I felt so cer- 
tain of the success of the piece that I ventured to 
get married — my bride none other than Madeline 
Morando, the dancer whom I had first met eight 
years before when I entered the cast of The Crystal 
Slipper. My experience would seem to indicate 
that contrary to widespread popular opinion, a 
danseuse is one of the best bets imaginable when 
choosing a wife — as I hope to show later on. 

Jimmy Sullivan was director, stage manager and 
straight comedian in this piece, acting as an effi- 
cient foil to me. He and I frequently had a lot of 
fun in gagging and surprising each other with 
impromptu stuff, and made the audience like it, 
too. On one occasion we held the stage for forty- 
five minutes, using some rehearsed material but a 
great many bits that were devised on the spur of 
the moment. We had the crowd laughing uproari- 
ously, and \vc kept it up until we tired of the fun 
and let the siiow go on. Jimmy and 1 claim to have 
originated that gag which became so justly popu- 
lar in vaudeville in the years that followed, “Have 
256 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

you ever played Virginius?'^ “No, but I have 
played West Virginius” — though some historians 
deny us this honor, one even asserting that there 
is evidence that this joke was in use as far back as 
the opening of the Christy Minstrels in New York 
in 1843. 

Jimmy and I fought side by side through many 
less humorous battles — with theatre managers, 
stage hands, hotel clerks, baggagemen, sheriffs and 
constables — ^yes, even with officers of the law; for 
there were times when financial disaster threatened 
to swamp the company and me. 

Our worst troubles of this sort were up in Wis- 
consin and Minnesota, where we ran into some 
streaks of bad business. I reached such a pitch of 
acute perception that I could tell one of those 
whiskered Wisconsin sheriffs as far as I could see 
him ; and in my hotel room, whenever I heard the 
clump of heavy boots coming along the corridor, 
I felt sure it was a minion of the law coming to 
serve another paper on me. They crawled through 
windows to serve writs, and they shoved them 
under doors and through transoms. It got so that 
when we entered a county, the sheriff met us at 
the boundary line and stayed with us until wc left, 
collecting the box office receipts. 

Of coip-se the ghost didn’t walk regularly, but 
most of the company stuck by me nobly and got 

237 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

along as best they could on what little I could dole 
out. I even lost my lavender trousers, which were 
almost essential to my dignity. In those days a pair 
of delicately-tinted lavender trousers was practi- 
cally a badge of the thespian profession. But a wait- 
ress in a small-town hotel spilled a plate of hot 
soup over mine, and as I couldn’t afford to buy 
another pair, I was forced to dress in ordinary 
civilian clothes. 

We were in one county more than a week because 
we couldn’t get away, and in a desperate attempt 
to fill in the time, we played practically every 
town in the county. The sheriff stayed with us all 
the time and boarded ofiF us, and I don’t think I 
have ever seen another man who could eat as much. 

Finally I had almost reached the point of sug- 
gesting that we make still shorter jumps and walk 
between towns. We had opened up the show one 
evening to a moderately good house, considering 
the fact that the night was stormy. The sheriff was 
sitting in the front row with the evening’s receipts 
in his pocket. He had seen the show four or five 
times, but still seemed to enjoy it. Violent squalls 
of wind came up now and then and fairly shook 
the building. During the first act I was on the 
stage with Mary rvlarble, singing “The Blow 
Almost Killed Father,” when there came a terrific 
blast of wind, a ripping sound, a prolonged crash, 
258 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

and bricks and plaster began raining down around 
us. Glancing upward, I looked right out into the 
deep, dark blue sky. A portion of the roof had been 
blown off! 

The audience was already jamming the exits in 
a wild rush, not only to escape from the building 
but also to learn whether their homes were still 
standing. It seemed best and cheapest to let them 
go. The most fortunate part of the whole affair was 
that the sheriff vanished from that moment. We 
packed up, took down our scenery and scraped 
together enough money to steal away on an early 
morning train — before dawn, in fact — right out 
from under a writ. Soon after that, business 
brightened up a bit and we got on our feet again. 

We had battles of other varieties, too. I shall 
never forget an experience at a certain town in 
Georgia. They had an outfit of Negro stage hands 
and hangers-on at the city’s theatre who were a 
notoriously tough bunch. They had at various 
times sent two or three people to the hospital, and 
why they were tolerated by the management and 
the town I have never been able to understand. 

This gang, numbering about eight or ten, some 
of whom were drones, gathered in a corner outside 
the dressing rooms just before the show began and 
started a crap game on the floor, accompanying it 
with a stream of such boisterous profanity and 

259 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

obscenity that Sullivan asked them to desist They 
paid no attention to him, and he complained again 
and more pointedly. Still the nuisance went on; 
and finally Sullivan strode out of his dressing room 
and said with considerable vigor; “Nov/, see here! 
You fellows will either cut out that rough stuff 
or stop this game and get out of here 1” 

At that, one of the toughs nearest him rose up 
at him threateningly, uttering an insulting remark 
as he did so. Jimmy, who was sort of bad medicine 
himself when stirred up, promptly hit the fellow 
a smack on the chin that laid him toes upward. 
Another came at him, and Jimmy likewise knocked 
him galley- west. By that time the whole bunch had 
sprung up, cursing and reaching for their razors. 

The whole thing hadn’t occupied more than ten 
seconds. I was in my dressing room, and I realized 
from the sounds without that a war was on wliich 
was apt to prove rather serious for Jimmy and for 
all of us. Suddenly I jerked open my door and 
stepped out into the dimly-lighted corridor. Para- 
phrasing Stonewall Jackson’s legendary command 
regarding Barbara Frictchic, I roared in my most 
tremendous voice, “Whoever touches a hair of that 
man’s head dies like a dog!” 

This pompous proclamation gave them pause; 
and coupled with the fact that in the very dim light 
in which I stood I seemed to have a nickeled auto- 
260 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

matic pistol trained on them, it threw those darkies 
into panic. They trampled each other under foot 
and nearly tore a door out of the casing in their 
scramble to get away. I shudder to think what 
would have happened had any of them gotten close 
enough to see that my “weapon” was nothing but a 
rectangular cake of light-colored soap held pistol- 
wise. 

People advised us to go armed that night or else 
have a bodyguard and go in by the front door. 
But we disregarded all warnings and swaggered in 
by the stage entrance with our hats over our ears, 
and were greeted with ludicrous deference. “Yas- 
suh, Mr. Foy!” “All right, suh, Mr. Sullivan!” 
were the replies to our every command and wish. 
We heard afterwards that we were regarded by 
that house staff as two of the most desperate Irish- 
men they had ever encountered. 

After we had done with Off the Earth, Sullivan 
went to England along with Edna May, Dan Daly, 
Phyllis Rankin, Harry Davenport and others in 
that famous comedy, The Belle of New York, 
which took London by storm, and the press notices 
show that he made probably the greatest hit ever 
made in England by an American comedian. Of 
course I ought in simple justice to myself to men- 
tion the fact that I never played in England. 

I now toured a season for Klaw & Erlanger 

261 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIRE 

in a revue called Gay New York. In 1898 Charlie 
JEvans, the comedian (old-timers will all remember 
Evans and Hoey in A Parlor Match) ^ who had 
blossomed out as a producer, put on a French musi- 
cal farce, Hotel Topsy Purvey, in which I had 
some success as the leading comedy character, a 
chef. There was much amusing business in this 
piece — stunts, for example, like the clock which 
threw up its hands to 12 when I pointed a pistol at 
it — some of which I worked out myself. The show 
took well on the road and lasted through the better 
part of two seasons. 

I now rerpoved my home from Chicago to New 
York. Once more I was seeking to conquer the 
East. I was determined to make myself as solid on 
Broadway as I felt myself to be in Chicago and the 
middle West. Moving my place of residence now 
meant more than formerly, for I had a growing 
family; in addition to the daughter Catherine, I 
now had two boys, Bryan and Charles, just two 
years apart in age. The name of the eldest will 
indicate that I was an enthusiastic subscriber to the 
free silver doctrine of the latter Nineties. It oc-' 
curred to me that if silver had been freer, I 
wouldn’t have suffered so much worry during the 
run of Off the Earth. 

New York at the “turn of the century” was a 
very different Gotham from what it is today. In 
262 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

fact, it is changing so rapidly nowadays that a man 
who has been absent from it as much as three years 
doesn’t recognize it when he comes back. In those 
days the Rialto extended from tree-shaded Long- 
acre Square (where a genial little two-story eat- 
and-drink shop stood on the site of the Times flat- 
iron of today) down Broadway to Herald Square 
and beyond. Rector’s flourished on the east side of 
Longacre, the St. Cloud and the Metropole at the 
south end; the great Augustin Daly’s Theatre and 
the Empire Theatre with its stock company were 
two of the standard temples of the drama for the 
Nation. Fifth Avenue was still the home of the 
old Knickerbocker aristocracy. Diamond Jim 
Brady, perhaps the greatest eater the world has 
ever known. Boss Croker, Chief Devery, Dr. Park- 
hurst, John L. Sullivan, Jim Jeffries, Kid McCoy, 
Billy Considine, Parson Davies, were a few 
famous figures about town, not to speak of some 
old friends of mine from farther west who had now 
reached high rank in their own lines — ^Jim Corbett, 
who was running a cafe down at Herald Square, 
Billy Jerome,_at the zenith of his career as a song 
and opera writer. Bat Masterson, engaged mostly 
in newspaper work but pausing here and there to 
referee a boxing bout or hold stakes. Up and down 
the Rialto one saw many famous thespians now 
dead — Joe Jefferson, James A. Herne, Richard 

263 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Mansfield, Maurice Barrymore, Nat Goodwin, 
Roland Reed, Pete Dailey, Walter Hale, Henry 
Miller, Jerome Sykes, Dan Daly, Lillian Russell, 
Ada Rehan, Helena Modjeska, and now and then 
Irving, Bernhardt, and Duse — to name only a few. 

A great old chap was Dan Daly; tall, thin, with 
a solemn, square-cut countenance which Britishers, 
when they saw him in The Belle of New York, 
declared with almost unanimous voice to be a 
living replica of the Duke of Wellington. Dan 
and I paid two memorable “calls” on each other 
one week in Pittsburgh. In those days musical 
comedy and revue stars now and then slipped away 
of an evening between acts or between appearances 
on the stage, rushed across in full makeup to a 
theatre where some friend was performing, and 
without warning strode out on his stage to do a 
turn or swap gags with him for a few moments 
and then break away. I don’t mean to say that this 
was done frequently; I could almost count all the 
episodes of the kind that I remember on the fingers 
of one hand ; but whenever such a thing happened, 
it tickled the audience thus favored enormously. 

Early that week in Pittsburgh I popped into 
Dan’s show one evening at the point where he was 
doing one of his solemn dances, and began to dance 
around and with him as earnestly yet nonchalantly 
as if I belonged there. We stopped presently, 
264 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

kidded each other for a few moments, and I with- 
drew. 

On the very next evening, I think it was, Dan 
was going through his stuff when three strange 
young women burst out on the stage and began 
doing a whirlwind dance around him. After the 
first dazed moment he recognized two of them as 
his sisters, Lucy and Lizzie, well-known perform- 
ers, but the third and wildest dancer, a miss in 
her teens, was a stranger to him. Not until the act 
was over did he learn that it was Lizzie’s daughter, 
Vinie, whom he hadn’t seen since she was a baby. 
Vinie Daly later became one of the most famous 
members of the family. 

That stunt gave Dan an idea. At the next inter- 
mission he hurried over to my theatre and saun- 
tered out into the very middle of one of my best 
turns. I was rather expecting the visit and was 
ready for him with some gags and repartee; but 
I was unprepared for the three strenuous young 
women who suddenly erupted upon us in a storm 
of billowy skirts, dancing, whirling, kicking so 
close to my head and eyes that it kept me dodging 
for safety. The call was a bit embarrassing to me, 
for the Daly family made such a hit that the 
audience almost refused to be reconciled when they 
insisted on leaving. 

One of the millions of mysterious happenings in 

265 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the history of human psychology is that strange 
mental twist which seized upon Dan not so long 
after this and caused him to subsist during the last 
two years of his life entirely on snails. This was 
common gossip at the time, and George Rector, 
who furnished the snails, has since confirmed it. 
Dan ate nothing at all during the day, but after the 
show, along towards midnight, he would go up to 
Rector’s and absorb about a quart of snails and a 
quart of champagne. How he lived as long as he 
did on such a diet I can’t imagine. 

I made a real Broadway hit (and that under 
difficulties) in The Strollers, a musical affair, the 
idea for which Jimmy Sullivan had picked up in 
Europe. It was adapted by Harry B. Smith and 
Ludwig Englander, and opened in 1901. At the 
beginning, somewhat to my discomfiture, I had to 
share honors in the cast with Francis Wilson; in 
fact, was overshadowed by him. But in a short 
time he dropped out of the company, and there- 
after I had things my own way, though I continued 
to play the same part, that of Kamfer, a jailer. 
D. L. Don, Marie George and Irene Bentley were 
other funmakers in the cast. 

I was now ofiicially “rediscovered” by New 
York. One metropolitan writer remarked that after 
leaving Henderson I had “dropped out of sight for 
five or six years” — a sample of New York’s cheer- 
266 




Madhijni-: Morando, tiii- I'ihrd Mrs. Fov 




CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ful ignorance of what is going on outside of New 
York. If you aren’t on Broadway, smashing ’em 
in the eye every season, the Wise Men of Gotham 
placidly assume that you do not exist. Consider the 
case of Robert Mantell, for example. He was kept 
out of New York for several years by some legal 
difficulty or other ; when he finally got this settled 
and appeared in the metropolis again, a goodly 
portion of the populace couldn’t remember ever 
having heard of him before, and thought he must 
be a foreigner. 

Early in 1902 1 was switched to a new show. The 
Wild Rose, in which I played the part of Para- 
celsus Noodle, a travelling hypnotist. I was backed 
up by a strong cast, including Albert Hart, Junie 
McCree, Irene Bentley, Marie Cahill and the 
diminutive Marguerite Clark — then still unknown 
to fame, but rapidly making her way — ^who theo- 
retically represented a French army lieutenant. I 
cannot say that she looked very militant, but she 
was tremendously fetching. And here was good old 
George Ali with me again, this time as a very 
comical bear. 

This was the show which Mrs. Cornelius Van- 
derbilt hired for one night at a fee of $5,000 — a 
great sum even in those recent days — and put on in 
her mansion in Newport for the entertainment of 
her friends. A good time was had by all, even by 

267 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the players, who were so lauded and admired and 
fed on rich viands that they found it difficult to 
come back to earth again. On that evening, for the 
only time in my life I grasped with my own grimy, 
toil-hardened mitt so many of the variously royal 
and noble, lily-white hands of Vanderbilts, Astors, 
Goelets, Belmonts, Cuttings, Iselins, Webbs and 
so on that I felt like a millionaire myself — until I 
awoke a few hours later and found no gold dust 
adhering to my palm from the contact. I even 
began to doubt gloomily what would be my recep- 
tion if I should go to one of my enthusiastic friends 
of that evening and ask for the loan of a paltry 
thousand dollars without security. 

I was now sufficiently at home on Broadway to 
follow my own bent to the utmost, just as I had 
formerly done at Chicago. I had always enjoyed 
putting a certain amount of my own brand of 
spontaneity into my work, and I found that the 
audiences liked it, too. By this I mean doing the 
unexpected thing — sometimes stepping down on 
to the orchestra piano to dance a bit — joking with 
the boys in the gallery or with some friend in the 
audience — introducing gags upon the occasion of 
some unexpected occurrence instead of trying to 
cover it up or sidestep it. I remember once at a 
town in Indiana, it was necessary to hang our hack 
drop squarely against the rear wall of the theatre, 
268 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

SO that one could not pass behind it I made an exit 
at the right of the stage and was to make an en- 
trance two or three minutes later from the left; so 
instead of rushing down through the dressing room 
floor to cross, I just hurried across the front of the 
stage in a momentary lull, explaining to the au- 
dience as I went that I couldn’t get across behind 
the scenery. After a startled moment of silence, the 
crowd roared with laughter. 

This gives a hint of some of my pet theories as 
to the comedian’s art — always keep them guessing; 
never let .them find out how you do it ; and strive 
to do even farce comedy so casually and calmly 
that they can scarcely believe you are acting. I 
cannot explain what I have tried to do any better 
than a critic in the Dramatic Mirror once did in 
telling what, in his opinion, I actually accom- 
plished. I will risk being accused of unusual ego- 
tism and quote a portion of his remarks : 

‘'Eddie Foy is the mildest, least obtrusive come- 
dian on the stage. His is the art that conceals art. 
Many comedians do their laugh-making in the 
same fashion as a slugger puts his opponent out of 
breath and vision. They are violently aggressive. 
They make fun as a whirlwind makes a visit. Both 
leave the victim stunned and somewhat indignant. 

is the best example of the breathless, 

don’t-stop-for-a-second-or-you’re-gone sort. Beside 

269 



c L O W.N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

him Eddie Foy is as grateful as a fragrant zephyr 
after a sandstorm, 

“Foy is as elusive in his way as some of the young 
women whom Miss Loftus says to imitate is like 
pursuing thistledown. You get it between your 
fingers and open them and it isn’t there. He defies 
analysis. It were much easier to say what his art 
is not than what it is. It does not consist in tum- 
blings nor contortions, therefore has none of the 
primal qualities of the boa constrictor. ... It does 
not owe its success to brass lungs nor megaphone 
delivery. When you reflect upon what Eddie Foy’s 
art is not, you realize how deep is the art that is 
to all appearances so narrow. His methods are as 
gentle as those of a child under the eye of a watch- 
ful mother. If he has ever bellowed on the stage, 
I have never heard him. . . . He has not made a 
stage reputation by any of nature’s trademarks, a 
glistening dome, nor a startling girth nor a nasal 
drawl. If he exaggerates any personal trait, it is 
that air of open-eyed and wondering innocence that 
sits so well upon him, suggesting a Rip van Winkle 
after a few days’ wandering on Broadway.” 


270 



XX 


After less than a year in “The Wild Rose” I 
opened on January 21, 1903, what was destined to 
be the most memorable engagement in my history. 
Klaw & Erlangcr had recently taken up the pro- 
ducing of great extravaganzas — importing the big 
Drury Lane pantomimes from London and giving 
them an American farcical touch and a bit of addi- 
tional lavishness. In splendor of staging and cos- 
tumes they fairly out-hendersoned Henderson. 
Their first production of this kind. The Sleeping 
Beauty and the Beast, had just run its course, and 
now they staged Mr. Bluebeard. 

In this memorable production, the Sister Anne 
of the original legend, who had been ruthlessly 
eliminated from Henderson’s version, now ap- 
peared as the leading comedy character, and I was 
assigned to play it. Dan McAvoy at first essayed 
Bluebeard, but was soon replaced by Harry Gil- 
foil. Flora Parker was Fatima; Adele Rafter, 
Selim; Norma Kopp, Abdallah; Bonnie Maginn 
was Imer Dasher, a Chicago girl; William Dan- 
forth, Mustapha and Herbert Cawthorne, Irish 
Pasha. I was supplied with two excellent songs by 

271 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Billy Jerome, “I’m a Poor, Unhappy Maid” and 
“Hamlet was a Melancholy Dane”; and I had a 
scene with a comic elephant which seemed to 
please the patrons greatly. 

Newspapers exhausted their stock of adjectives 
in trying to describe this colossal affair. “Stupen- 
dous!” “Magnificent!” “The limit of pictorial stage 
art has been reached.” “Extravagance can go no fur- 
ther.” “One of the most gorgeous spectacles ever 
seen in a theatre” — such were a few of the com- 
ments. There was a flying ballet which floated in 
the air like thistledown. At one point the leader 
soared from the stage out over the heads of the 
audience almost to the gallery rail, scattering 
flowers as she went. That trolley wire upon which 
she was carried was destined to play a tragic part 
in the history of the show before the year was out. 
At another moment in the play a girl on the stage 
stepped towards the footlights and held out her 
hands ; one of the fairies floated down as gently as 
a snowflake, alighted thereon and pirouetted with- 
out causing the hand to shake. 

There were some really wonderful tableaux — 
“The Valley of Ferns,” “Egypt,” “India,” “J apan,” 
“The Parisian Rose Garden” and “The Triumph 
of the Fan.” The last-named was the most gorgeous 
of all; hundreds of people on the stage, many in 
hand-painted costumes and waving scores of huge 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

fans of ostrich plumes; greater fans of lace and 
feathers appearing from flies and wings, all illu- 
minated with colored electric bulbs; and above 
all, the seven aerial dancers, each poised on the 
points of an illuminated glass star which revolved 
under the touch of her toes. Some of those fans 
caught fire at Cleveland and came near precipitat- 
ing a calamity, but happily were extinguished 
betimes. 

Mr. Bluebeard opened the new Iroquois Theatre 
in Chicago on November 23, 1903. They made a 
great celebration of the opening — had elaborate 
souvenir programs and no little ceremony. The two 
local stockholder-managers of the theatre, the ar- 
chitect of the building and one or two others made 
speeches, and certain of the gallery gods called 
loudly for an oration from me, but the orchestra 
mercifully drowned their outcries by striking up 
"America.” 

The theatre was one of the finest that had yet 
been built in this country — a palace of marble and 
plate glass, plush and mahogany and gilding. It 
had a magnificent promenade foyer, like an old- 
world palace hall, with a ceiling sixty feet from 
the floor and grand staircases ascending on either 
side. Backstage it was far and away the most com- 
modious I had ever seen. The space in the rear 
allowed for enormous expansion of the stage set- 

273 



c L 0 W. N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

ting. They must have had as much room back there 
as, or more than they have in the Metropolitan 
Opera House in New York. A vast expanse of 
dressing rooms was provided under the stage and 
auditorium for the chorus, and the principals 
dressed on the stage level or above. The flies were 
reached by elevators. We were told that the theatre 
was the very last word in efficiency, convenience, 
and safety. Instead, it proved to be a fools’ para- 
dise. There had been no great theatre disaster in 
this country for many years, and all precautions 
against such a thing were greatly relaxed. 

Chicago having been our home for so many 
years, I had taken my wife and children with me 
on this trip and we were stopping at the Sherman. 
We had an uproarious time with the kids around 
the holiday season. My mother, then nearing 
eighty, was not too old to join in the fun. Business 
Was good at the theatre, and life in general seemed 
to be moving along very satisfactorily. 

We drew big crowds all through Christmas 
week. On Wednesday afternoon, December 30th, 
at the bargain price matinee, the house was packed 
and many were standing. I tried to get passes for 
my wife and youngsters, but failed. It was then 
decided that I should take only the eldest boy, 
Bryan, aged six, to the show and stow him wher- 
ever I could. I tried to get a seat for him down in 
274 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

front, but found that there were none left, so I put 
him on a little stool in the first entrance at the right 
of the stage — a sort of alcove near the switchboard ; 
and he liked that even better than being down in 
the seats. 

It struck me as I looked out over the crowd 
during the first act that I had never before seen so 
many woman and children in an audience. Even 
the gallery was full of mothers and children. There 
were several parties of girls in their teens. Teach- 
ers, college and high school students on their vaca- 
tions were there in great numbers. The house seated 
a few more than 1,60Q. The managers declared 
afterwards that they sold only a few more than a 
hundred standing room tickets, which would bring 
the total attendance to considerably over 1,700. 
The testimony of others seemed to indicate that 
there were many more standees than admitted by 
the management, and it was widely believed that 
there were more than 2,000 people in the house 
that afternoon. And remember that back of the 
curtain, counting the members of the company, 
stage hands and so on, there were fully 400 more. 
The quantity of scenery, costumes and properties 
required for such a spectacle is prodigious, and a 
big force of men and women besides the actors is 
necessary to take care of it. 

Much of the scenery used was of a very flimsy 

275 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

character. Hanging suspended by a forest of ropes 
above the stage and so close together that they were 
well-nigh touching each other were no less than 
280 drops, several of which were necessary to each 
set; all painted with oil colors, the great majority 
of them cut into delicate lacery and some of them 
of sheer gauze. There had been a fire in the scenery 
during our engagement in Cleveland, but by a 
piece of luck it was quickly squelched ; and I had 
been playing in theatres for so long without any 
trouble with fire that the incident didn’t give me 
much of a scare. It takes a disaster to make one 
cautious. After our experience at the Iroquois, not 
one in ten of us actors (and I dare say other people 
would have been equally heedless) could remem- 
ber whether we had ever seen any fire extinguish- 
ers, fire hose, axes or other apparatus back of the 
stage. 

The play went merrily through the first act. At 
the beginning of the second act a double octette — 
eight men and eight women — ^had a very pretty 
number called “In the Pale Moonlight.” The stage 
was flooded with bluish light while they sang and 
danced. It was then that the trouble began. In spite 
of some slight conflict of opinion, there can be no 
doubt that one of the big lights high up at one side 
of the stage blew out its fuse. That was what had 
caused the Cleveland blaze, and it was well known 
276 



CLOWNING THROUGH LITE 

to the electricians of the company that in order to 
obtain the desired lighting effects, they were carry- 
ing much too heavy a load of power on the wires. 
Anyhow, a bit of the gauzy drapery caught fire at 
the right of the stage, some twelve or fifteen feet 
above the floor. 

I was to come on in a few minutes for my turn 
with the comic elephant, and I was in my dressing 
room making up, as I wore a slightly different out- 
fit in this scene. I heard a commotion outside and 
my first idle thought was, “I wonder if they’re 
fighting down there again” — for there had been a 
row a few days before among the supers and stage 
hands. But the noise swelled in volume, and sud- 
denly I became frightened. I jerked my door open, 
and instantly I knew that there was something 
deadly wrong. It could be nothing else but fire. 
My first thought was for Bryan, and I ran down- 
stairs and around into the wings. Probably not 
forty seconds had elapsed since I heard the first 
commotion — but already the terror was beginning. 

When the blaze was first discovered, two stage 
hands tried to extinguish it. One of them, it is said, 
strove to beat it out with a stick or a piece of 
canvas or something else, but it was too far above 
his head. Then he or the other man got one of those 
fire extinguishers consisting of a small tin tube of 
powder and tried to throw; the stuff on the flame, 

277 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

but it was ridiculously inadequate. If there were 
any of those large fire extinguishers there which 
throw liquid chemicals from a hose, nobody seemed 
to find them or to think of them. Meanwhile in the 
audience, those far around on the opposite side and 
especially those near the stage could see this blaze 
and the men fighting it, and they began to get 
frightened. 

The flame spread through those tinder-like fab- 
rics with terrible' rapidity. If the drop first ignited 
could have been* instantly separated from the 
others, the calamity might have been averted ; but 
that was impossible. Within a minute the flame 
was beyond possibility of control by anything but 
a fire hose. Probably not even a big fire extinguish- 
er could have stopped it by that time. Why no at- 
tempt was made to use any such apparatus, or 
whether, indeed, it was in working order, I don’t 
know. If the house force had ever had any fire 
drills, there was no evidence of it in their actions. 
The stage manager was absent at the moment, and 
several of the stage hands were in a saloon across 
the street. No one had even taken the trouble to 
see that a fire alarm box was located on or near the 
theatre, and a stage hand ran all the way to South 
Water Street to turn in the alarm. 

As I ran around back of the rear drop, I could 
hear the murmur of excitement growing in the 
278 




IvDini- Fov AS SiSTBK. AISTNTK IN “MR. KLUEItRARlK” Hk Wa.S 
I>RHS«IN(; FOR TtlI8 ACT WITH THf: ELETUANT WheN' 

THE lRoai.'or« Fike Began 




CLOWNING. THROUGH LIFE 

audience. Somebody had of course yelled “Fire!” 
— there is almost always a fool of that species in 
an audience and sometimes several of them; and 
there are always hundreds of poorly balanced peo- 
ple who go crazy the moment they hear the word. 
I ran around into the wings, shouting for Bryan. 
The lower borders on that side were all aflame, and 
the blaze was leaping up into the flies. On the stage 
those brave boys and girls, bless them, were still 
singing and doing their steps, though the girls’ 
voices were beginning to falter a little. 

I found my boy in his place, though getting 
much frightened. I seized him and started towards 
the rear. But all those women and children out in 
front haunted me — the hundreds of little ones 
who would be helpless, trodden under foot in a 
panic. I must — I must do what I could to save 
them I 

I tossed Bryan into the arms of a stage hand, 
crying ^‘Take my boy out!” I paused a moment to 
watch him running towards the rear doors; then 
I turned and ran out on the stage, right through 
the ranks of the octette, still tremblingly doing 
their part, though the scenery was blazing over 
them; but as I reached the footlights, one of the 
girls fainted and one of the men picked her up and 
carried her off. I was a grotesque figure to come 
before an audience at so serious an occasion — tights 

279 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

and comic shoes, a short smock — a sort of abbrevi- 
ated Mother Hubbard — and a w^ig with a ridicu- 
lous little pigtail curving upward from the back of 
my head. The crowd was beginning to surge 
towards the doors and already showing signs of a 
stampede — those on the lower floor not so badly 
frightened as those in the more dangerous balcony 
and gallery. Up there they were falling into panic. 
Oh, God, if only I possessed an overmastering per- 
sonality and eloquence that could quiet them! If 
only I could do fifty things at once! — ^Why didn’t 
the asbestos curtain come down? — I began shoot- 
ing at the top of my voice, “Don’t get excited. 
There’s no danger. Take it easy!” — and to Dillca, 
the orchestra leader, “Play! Start an overture — 
anything! But play!” Some of his musicians were 
fleeing, but a few, and especially a fat German 
violinist, stuck nobly — “Take your time, folks! 
(Wonder if that man got out with Bryan?) No 
danger!” — ^And sidewise into the wings, “The as- 
bestos curtain! For God’s sake, doesn’t anybody 
know how to lower this curtain? Go slow, people! 
You’ll get out!” 

I stood perfectly still, and when addressing the 
audience spoke slowly, knowing that these signs of 
self-possession have a calming effect un a crowd. 
Those on the lower floor heard me and seemed to 
be reassured a little, but up above and especially 
280 



c L O W N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

ia the gallery, self possession had fled; they had 
gone mad. 

Down came the curtain slowly, two-thirds of the 
way — and stopped, one end higher than the other, 
caught on the wire on which the girl made her 
flight over the audience, and which had just been 
raised into position for the coming feat. Then the 
strong draught coming through the back doors by 
which the company were fleeing, bellied the slack 
of it in a wide arc out into the auditorium, letting 
the draft and flame through at its sides. “Lower it! 
Cut the wire!” I yelled. “Don’t be frightened, 
folks! Go slow! (Oh, God, maybe that man didn’t 
take Bryan out!) No danger! Play, Dillea!” 
Below me, Dillea was still swinging his baton and 
that brave, fat little German was still fiddling alone 
and furiously, but no man could hear him now, 
for the roar of the flames was added to the roar of 
the mob. In the upper tiers they were in a mad, 
animal-like stampede — ^their screams, groans and 
snarls, the scuffle of thousands of feet and of bodies 
grinding against bodies merging into a crescendo 
half-wail, half roar, the most dreadful sound that 
ever assailed human ears. 

“Laugh, Pagliacci!” wrote Amy Leslie of the 
scene. “What if they do burn? Play on, clown, sing, 
dance, jerk about your funny petticoats, though 
your own hair is growing gray under that comical 

281 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

wig and deep wrinkles of fright and misery line 
your painted face. . . . No magnificently armored 
knight in flashing steel and waving plume could 
stand, a more heroic figure in the soul’s eye of the 
grateful than this horror-stricken, courageous 
comedian who with every trick of gay pretense and 
active command, endeavored to calm that panic- 
crazed and fire-dipped mass of fighting bodies 
without minds.” 

Then came a cyclonic blast of fire from the stage 
out into the auditorium — probably a great mass of 
scenery suddenly ignited and fanned by a stronger 
gust — a flash and a roar as when a heap of loose 
powder is fired all at once. A huge billow of flame 
leaped out past me and over me and seemed to 
reach even to the balconies. Some of the audience 
described it as an ‘‘explosion” and “a great ball of 
fire.” A shower of blazing fragments fell over me 
and set, my wig smoldering. A fringe on the edge 
of the curtain just above my head was burning, and 
as I glanced up, the curtain itself was disintegrat- 
ing. It was thin and not wire-reinforced; another 
cheat ! 

Now the last of the musicians had fled. I could 
do nothing more, and I might as well go, too. But 
by this time the inferno behind me was so terrible 
that I wondered whether I could escape that way; 
282 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

perhaps it were better through the auditorium. 
But Bryan had gone out by the rear — if he had 
gone at all — and I was irresistibly drawn to follow, 
that I might learn his fate more quickly. I think 
I was the last man on the stage; I fairly had to 
grope my way through flame and smoke to reach 
the Dearborn Street stage door, which was still 
jammed with our people getting out. The actors 
and stage employees nearly all escaped — saved by 
the failure of the asbestos curtain to come down, 
which let the bulk of the flame roll out into the 
auditorium and brought death to many in the 
audience. The flying ballet went out as I did, 
rescued' by the heroism of the elevator boy, who 
ran his car up through tips of flame into the flies 
where they stood awaiting their turn, and brought 
them down. But one of them, Nellie Reed, the 
pftmiere, was so badly burned that she died in a 
hospital a day or two later. Some of the people 
dressing under the stage had to break down doors 
or escape through coal chutes. 

As I left the stage the last of the ropes holding 
up the drops burned through, and with them the 
whole loft collapsed with a terrifying crash, bring- 
ing down tons of burning material — and with that, 
all the lights in the ‘house went out and another 
great balloon of flame leaped out into the audito- 

283 



c L 0 W, N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

rium, licking even the ceiling and killing scores 
who had not yet succeeded in escaping from the 
gallery. 

The horror in the auditorium was beyond all 
description. There were thirty exits, but few of 
them were marked by lights, some even had heavy 
portieres over the doors, and some of the doors 
were locked or fastened with levers which no one 
knew how to work. There was no great panic on 
the parquet floor save at the outskirts, and I am 
humbly thankful in the belief that my pleading 
quieted those within the sound of my voice and pre- 
vented those nearest the stage (although in greater 
danger) from throwing their weight against those 
massed near the doors. There was a bit of a stam- 
pede at the rear of the ground floor — among those 
less in danger than any others in the house — and 
some were trampled under foot, but most of them 
were rescued by the determined efforts of the door- 
keepers and policemen at the entrances. 

It was said that some of the exit doors leading 
from the upper tiers on to the fire escapes on the 
alley between Randolph and Lake Streets seemed 
to be cither rusted or frozen (for the weather was 
bitterly cold) and were very hard to open. They 
were finally burst open, but meanwhile precious 
moments had been lost which meant the death of 
many behind those doors. The fire escape ladders 
284 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

could not accommodate the crowd, and many fell 
or jumped to death on the pavement below. Some 
of those following were not killed because they 
alighted on the cushion of bodies of those who had 
gone before. When one balcony exit was opened, 
those who surged out on the platform found that 
they could not descend the steps because flames 
were leaping from the exit below them. Some 
painters in a building across a narrow court threw 
a ladder over to the platform; a man started crawl- 
ing over it — one end of it slipped off the icy land- 
ing and he fell, crushed, on the stones below. The 
painters then succeeded in bridging the gap with 
plank, and just twelve people crossed that nar- 
row footpath to safety. The twelfth was pursued 
by a tongue of flame which dashed against the wall 
of the opposite building — and no more escaped. 
The iron platform was crowded with women and 
children. Some died right there; others crawled 
over the railing and fell to the pavement. The iron 
railings were actually torn off some of the plat- 
forms. 

But it was inside the house that the greatest loss 
of life occurred, especially on the stairways lead- 
ing down from the second balcony. Here most of 
the dead were trampled or smothered, though 
many jumped or fell over the balustrade to the 
floor of the foyer. In places on the stairways, par- 

285 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ticularly where a turn caused a jam, the bodies 
were piled seven or eight feet deep. Firemen and 
police confronted a sickening task in disentangling 
them. An occasional living person was found in the 
heaps, but most of these were terribly injured. The 
heel prints on the dead faces mutely testified to the 
cruel fact that human animals stricken by terror 
are as mad and ruthless as stampeding cattle. Many 
bodies had the clothes torn from them, and some 
had the flesh trodden from their bones. 

Never elsewhere did a great fire disaster occur 
so quickly. It is said that from the start of the fire 
until all the audience were either escaped or killed 
or lying maimed in the halls and alleys the time 
was just eight minutes. In that eight minutes more 
than five hundred lives went out. The fire depart- 
ment arrived quickly after the alarm and extin- 
guished the fire in the auditorium so promptly that 
no more than the plush upholstery was burned off 
the seats, the wooden parts remaining intact But 
when a fire chief thrust his head through a side 
exit and shouted, “Is anybody alive in here?” not 
a sound was heard in reply. The few who were not 
dead were insensible or dying. Within ten minutes 
from the beginning of the fire, bodies were being 
laid in rows on the sidewalks, and all the ambu- 
lances and dead-wagons in the city could not keep 
286 






CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Up with the ghastly harvest. Within twenty-four 
hours Chicago knew that at least 587 were dead, 
and that many more injured. Subsequent deaths 
among the injured brought the list up to 602. 

As I rushed out of the theatre, I could think of 
nothing but my boy. I became more and more 
frightened ; as I neared the street I was certain he 
hadn’t gotten out. But when I reached the side- 
walk, God be praised, there he was with his faith- 
ful friend just outside the door. I seized him in 
my arms and turned toward the hotel. 

It was a thinly clad mob which poured out of 
the stage doors into the snow. The temperature was 
around zero, and an icy gale was howling through 
the streets. Many of the actors and actresses had 
had no opportunity to save street clothes or wraps, 
and some of the chorus girls who were dressing at 
the time of the fire were compelled to run out 
almost nude. Kindly people furnished wraps for 
these whenever they could and took them into busi- 
ness houses near by for refuge. 

My own outfit of tights and thin smock felt like 
nothing at all, and my teeth were chattering so 
from the cold and the horror of what I had just 
been through that I could not speak. A well- 
dressed man, a stranger to me, stopped me and said, 
“My friend, you’d better borrow my overcoat,” 

287 , 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

throwing off his heavy coat as he did so and help- 
ing me to put it on. He then picked up Bryan and 
walked with me across the street — and there, at 
the corner of a drug store, hurrying towards the 
theatre, I saw my wife with the two youngest 
children. 

She gave a scream at sight of me, and crying, 
“Oh, thank God! Thank God!” she threw herself 
into my arms — then seized Bryan and kissed him, 
then me again, transferring quantities of grease 
paint from my face to her own and then to her 
son’s. She had had a vague premonition of disaster 
from the time that Bryan and I had left the hotel 
that afternoon. Her ears unconsciously alert for 
significant sounds, she had heard the first clang of 
a fire truck gong in the street — rushed to the win- 
dow, saw the direction the firemen were taking, 
and felt certain that the trouble was at the theatre. 
Quickly she put wraps on the children and started 
towards the Iroquois on foot. 

We turned back towards the hotel, thankful yet 
horrified, for I knew that the calamity must have 
been a terrible one. I returned the overcoat to my 
good Samaritan friend, but was so agitated that I 
forgot to ask his name or even to thank him ade- 
quately, I fear. If he still lives and chances to read 
this, I hope he will understand and accept this 
belated expression of my gratitude. 

288 



c L O W N 1 IS! G ‘THROUGH LIFE 

I had no sleep at all that night. Newspaper re- 
porters were begging me for interviews, friends 
were calling me by telephone and wiring me, and I 
had to reassure my mother and sisters ■ and my 
wife’s two sisters, who were taking care of our 
Eastern home. I was too excited to sleep, anyhow, 
even if I had had opportunity. My nerves did not 
subside to normal pitch for weeks afterward. 

I was greatly touched by the many kindly things 
spoken by the press regarding my behavior in the 
disaster. What I did was little enough. Heaven 
knows, and at the critical moment I was enraged 
almost to the point of madness because of my in- 
ability to do more. I have already quoted — I hope 
without undue egotism — a bit from a much longer 
article of praise written by Amy Leslie. Another 
paragraph which pleased me very much was writ- 
ten by Hartley Davis: 

“Somehow wc think of Eddie Foy’s effort to 
check that mad panic as parallelling the tremen- 
dous effort of Gwynplaine, ‘the Man who 
Laughs,’ when taking his rightful place as Lord 
Clancharlie in the House of Lords, he sought to 
subdue the fatal grin on his face and to command 
the respect of that august body. It may be far- 
fetched, but with the picture of that droll come- 
dian, who never before had come before people 
without the thought of making them laugh upper- 

289 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

most in his mind, standing on that flame-swept 
stage, pleading, commanding, longing for the 
tragic power of a Kean to control that frenzied 
throng, my mind inevitably dwells on that won- 
drous scene of Victor Hugo’s.” 


290 



XXI 


The Iroquois disaster brought about a serious 
reaction upon the theatrical profession in general. 
On the day after the fire every theatre in Chicago 
was closed, and they remained so for some time, 
while the city authorities were investigating the 
question of their safety. Numerous road shows 
were thus thrown out of weeks of business in Chi- 
cago, and to make it worse, New York and other 
cities also began closing theatres suspected of being 
unsafe. Theatre managers the country over of 
course began rushing into print with declarations 
that a disaster like that of the Iroquois could not 
possibly happen in their house; but city govern- 
ments generally refused to accept such statements 
until they had been put to the test. 

A New York newspaper a few days later listed 
over fifty companies which had actually closed 
their season’s run; and it was said that counting 
vaudeville and burlesque players there were 15,000 
people idle. In Chicago alone during the first two 
weeks in January 6,000 who depended upon the 
mimic world for their living — actors, actresses, 

291 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

chorus singers, stage hands, mechanics, etc. — ^werc 
out of work. 

But the terrible lesson was sadly needed. In New 
York at that very moment there were Broadway 
theatres which had wooden stairways ; there were 
aisles so narrow that not more than one person 
could pass through them at a time; the matter of 
exits had been given little study or even attention; 
there was a theatre located upstairs in that city 
with only one not too wide stairway, and a wind- 
ing one at that, down which the entire audience 
must go to reach the ground ; there were basement 
dressing rooms reached by stairways little better 
than ladders, where actors would be caught like 
rats in a trap in case of a sudden fire. The fine for 
violation of the fire laws in New York was nom- 
inal. The retiring fire commissioner of that city 
had recently asserted that there were theatres on 
Broadway which were far worse traps than the 
Iroquois. During the discussion which prevailed, 
Oscar Hammerstcin declared that no children 
would ever be admitted to a theatre controlled by 
him; and he angered some of the ladies by adding 
that a woman with a child constituted one of the 
most dangerous elements that could be found in- 
side a theatre. 

The Chicago horror was a blessing in one re- 
spect — namely, in that it brought about a country- 
292 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

wide investigation and house-cleaning. Theatres in 
some cities were declared hopeless fire-traps and 
were permanently closed. Others were compelled 
to make costly repairs. The top gallery of a theatre 
in Philadelphia was eliminated. Stringent ordi- 
nances regarding exits were passed and enforced. 
A Boston theatre manager, anxious to prove the 
safety of his house, threw it open during the day 
and invited the public to call and inspect the aisles 
and exit arrangements and to test the asbestos 
curtain with a plumber’s blow- torch. Since then 
theatres have been far safer than ever before. There 
arc occasional hazards and violations of the laws of 
safety still, but I hope and believe that another 
disaster such as that of the Iroquois is at least im- 
probable. 

The Mr. Bluebeard production was totally 
ruined, and Klaw & Erlanger soon decided that 
they would not attempt to reproduce it; so about 
three hundred people were for the time being 
thrown out of jobs. I went back East with my fam- 
ily and for a few weeks did an act in vaudeville — 
an adaptation of my scene between Sister Anne and 
the elephant. I had the same two young men who 
had played the fore and hind legs of the animal in 
the Bluebeard company, but I had to get a new 
elephant, as the old one had been cremated in the 
Ere. 


293 



CLOWNING THROUGH L 1 F E 

My vaudeville work came to an end late in 
March, when I began rehearsals for the new musi- 
cal comedy, "Pifif! Paff! Pouf!” which opened at 
the Casino in New York on April 2d. In this 
Templar Saxe, John Hyams and I played Messrs. 
Piffle, Paffle, and Pouffle respectively — ^Joseph 
Miron, Alice Fischer, Amelia Stone, Abby Stangc 
and others also having important parts. My friend 
Billy Jerome wrote the lyrics. I had at least one 
rather memorable song, “The Ghost that Never 
Walked,” and a novel scene in which I was buried 
in sand on a beach, then dug up and exhibited by a 
fakir as a piece of sculpture made from sand. I 
came to life when a millionairess fell in love with 
me, but when my wife inopportunely appeared, I 
was suddenly petrified to sand again. 

“Piff! Paff! Pouf!” was a big success. In the 
following year I was cast in a new piece. The Earl 
and the Girl, playing the part of Jim Cheese, a 
dog trainer, who for a time masquerades as an earl 
in coronet and ermine-trimmed robe. J. Bernard 
Dyllyn, Templar Saxe, Victor Morlcy, W. H. 
Armstrong, Zcima Rawlston, Amelia Summer- 
ville, Georgia Caine and others made up a strong 
cast. That fall I appeared with this troupe at 
Chicago for the first time since the Iroquois fire, 
and my reception when I first came on the stage 

from one of those typical Ciiicago audiences which 
294 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

never forgot a friend was so generous that it 
brought tears to my .eyes. They fairly stopped the 
show, and I was compelled to speak a sentence or 
two of thanks before we could proceed. At the 
close of the act more remarks were so insistently 
demanded that although an impromptu speech is a 
matter of terror to me, I faltered a few more words 
of gratitude. 

The Broadway thespian of today who, when he 
“goes on the road,” sees none but a few of the larger 
cities, wots little of the varied color in the life of 
an actor of twenty and more years ago, when much 
smaller towns had not been ‘taken over by the 
movies, but were still ports of call for metropolitan 
troupes. We got closer to people’s hearts in those 
small towns than in the great metropoli. They saw 
us with the paint off and in our own character — 
eagerly watched us arriving and departing at the 
railway station, loafing in the hotel or strolling on 
the street at odd moments. And we, for our part, 
learned more of the secrets of small-town life than 
the New Yorker of today e’er dreams of. 

All this, inconsistently enough, comes to my 
mind as I glance at a clipping in my scrap book, 
taken from a newspaper in Johnstown, New York, 
early in 1906. As I read it I can almost hear again 
those Wednesday evening church bells — the “first” 
and “second bells” at 7.1 S and 7.30. It will be noted 

295 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

that amenities between church and stage were not 
unknown in provincial small towns even twenty 
years ago: 

“All reports to the contrary notwithstanding, 
Eddie Foy will positively appear in The Earl and 
the Girl at the Grand this evening. The advance 
sale of seats is already so large that Manager Colin 
announces that seats that have been engaged will 
not be held after 7.30 o’clock unless payment is 
guaranteed. In order to accommodate those who 
may wish to attend prayer meeting, the curtain will 
be held until 8.30.” 

The Orchid, which opened at Philadelphia in 
March, 1907, was an English con^edy and one of 
the Shuberts’ great successes. The so-called plot, 
which centered in and around a horticultural col- 
lege was concerned with the efforts of a wealthy 
American to get possession of an orchid which 
would win for him the prize at the flower show at 
Nice. My job was “to disfigure or to represent” the 
part of Artie Choke, head gardener at the horti- 
cultural college. Trixie Friganza was at first the 
female lead, later very ably succeeded by Flavia 
Arcaro. 

Some auditors found difficulty in believing that 
it was I who sang “Mulberry Street” in this show 
in Italian make-up and dialect— it was so diticrent 
from my ordinary run of characters. A typical 
296 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

comment, written by a St. Louis critic, said, “He 
was a revelation as a character actor, depicting an 
Italian in a lifelike manner and rendering the 
broken dialect splendidly. ‘I didn’t believe he had 
it in him,’ was the remark made by many who have 
seen Foy only in his conventional roles. But take 
care, Eddie. This doesn’t mean that you can play 
Hamlet.” 

This final shot hints at rumors which had already 
been going the rounds for more than a year — a 
carefully nurtured campaign of propaganda kept 
going by the Shuberts. We were evolving an idea 
which had long been in my mind — namely, that of 
playing some sort of burlesque on Hamlet. It was 
decided that the best way to build up an approach 
to this was to intimate that I had finally made up 
my mind to put an end to clowning, and fulfil a 
life’s ambition by playing Hamlet in the best tra- 
dition of Edwin Booth. 

Rumors were persistently circulated that I in- 
tended discarding the name of Foy, which was so 
unpleasantly associated with buffoonery, and as- 
sume my rightful paternal cognomen, being known 
thenceforth as Mr. Edwin Fitzgerald, the trage- 
dian. In interviews I gravely but cautiously ad- 
mitted that some plans of the sort were being dis- 
cussed, but that I was not yet at liberty to make a 
full statement on the matter. 


297 



c L 0 W. N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

“I have long known that I have the artistic fem- 
perament for those roles,” I would say. “I am 
really a Shakespearean actor, but the managers 
have kidded me out of it. I shall start with Hamlet, 
and after that play Touchstone, Lear and other 
roles. Of course no artist can be sure of success in 
Shakespearean drama, but if, as I expect, I do 
succeed, none will ever hear of me in comedy or 
as Eddie Foy again.” 

The fact that I knew Hamlet’s lines forward and 
backward, and had so often been heard oflf the stage 
reciting not only that but other Shakespearean 
parts by the yard, lent color to the stories. “One 
must make some concession to one’s gnawing tem- 
perament,” I would say. “I’ve been sitting on this 
lid of mine for twenty-five years”— -which had 
more of truth than jest in it. But of course I had 
no thought whatsoever of playing Hamlet serious- 
ly. I still yearned to do it, but I had long since 
become aware that it could never be. 

Of course there was a tempest of jeering and 
kidding at the announcement. Burlesque casts were 
suggested — Fay Templeton as Ophelia, Lee Har- 
rison as Horatio, Jeff de Angelis as Laertes, George 
Cohan as Polonius, Pete Daily as the King, and so 
on. Later May Irwin was touted as Ophelia, and 
May gave an interview in which she admitted that 
owing to a slight increase in her weight, she had 
2M 





CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

regretfully given up her long-cherished ambition 
to play Juliet, but that she still considered herself 
physically and temperamentally fitted to handle 
Ophelia as opposite to my Hamlet. 

Some one even dug up the story of the Shakes- 
pearean performance in which I had participated 
in Chicago some fifteen years before, when I was 
still with the Henderson company. The true ver- 
sion of that episode is this : 

At a stock theatre over on the West Side of 
Chicago there was employed at that time an actor 
named William Morris. He was the leading man 
of the company, and he thought himself far too 
good for the ordinary mill run of melodramas 
which prevailed at that house. Given a fair oppor- 
tunity in something better, he thought he could 
convince the leading producers of America that a 
great star had been twinkling unseen under their 
very noses, dimmed by the murk of provincial 
obscurity. 

Finally his opportunity came — or rather, he 
made it. A benefit was suggested for somebody or 
other, and Morris leaped into the breach with a 
request that he be permitted to raise a company 
and put on Julius Caesar with himself as Marc 
Antony. The proposition was agreed to, and Mor- 
ris called upon all the available actors in the city 
and asked them to help him out. It happened that 

299 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

most of the prominent ones who were able or will- 
ing to assist him were comedians. The result was 
that when Morris finally made out his cast, Arthur 
Dunn, who was about as big as a pint of peanuts, 
was to play Caesar, Jacques Kruger was Brutus 
and I was Cassius. John D. Gilbert was also in the 
cast, playing Casca, I think. We all solemnly prom- 
ised to do our very best and indulge in no funny 
business. 

For three solid weeks we rehearsed. Morris was 
working his head off and fairly growing thin with 
the worry of it. Finally the day came. It was to be 
a matinee, of course, for wc were all working else- 
where at night. McVicker’s was the theatre, and 
by dint of much plugging from everybody, the 
house was full when the curtain rose. Every critic 
in town was there, and perhaps Morris wasn’t the 
only one who thought it possible that he might 
show that he had better material in him than he 
was being permitted to use. 

The performance moved along very nicely until 
we reached the forum scene. Morris, tense and per- 
spiring, was hovering in the wings, impatiently 
awaiting the moment when he should bring down 
the h(Hise with his funeral oration, and inscribe his 
name fur all time on the roll of great tragcilians. 

The moment of the assassination came, (''asca 
cried, “ Speak, hands, for me!” and wc all dosed 
300 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

in on Caesar and stabbed him. As the dumpy little 
person of Arthur Dunn sank to the floor, somebody 
either by accident or design kicked him and caused 
him to do such a funny fall that I involuntarily 
snickered half aloud. I had my back partly turned 
to the audience and the giggle might have gone 
unnoticed even then had not the defunct Caesar 
heard at, opened one eye and raised his head 
slightly to see what the joke was about. At that I 
shook with merriment and Kruger sputtered aloud 
— ^whereupon another and another of the cast ex- 
ploded ; then the audience caught the infection and 
the laughter swelled into a roar. For three or four 
minutes stage and auditorium were swept by a cata- 
clysm of mirth such as probably no theatre ev?r 
saw before. The stage manager rang down the 
curtain; there was nothing else to do. The scene 
was ruined. 

Poor Morris was almost mad with rage and 
grief: “My Godl” he shrieked. “Here IVe been 
toiling for weeks on this thing, and now you 
damned clowns, you jackasses, wreck it in two 
minutes.” He strode to and fro, raving and tearing 
his hair in an ecstasy which would have made him 
the greatest actor of the century if he could have 
reproduced it to order. I really felt a sincere re- 
morse and pity for him ; but it was too late then. 
His chance was gone. I’ve no doubt he always 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

attributed his failure to reach the top of the pro- 
fession to the collapse of that unfortunate matinee. 

All fhe rumors regarding my ambition were 
finally exploded when Mr. Hamlet of Broadway 
opened in the fall of 1908. The burlesque of Ham- 
let was only a portion of the show. In order to 
give it a setting and an excuse, the scene of the play 
was laid in a summer hotel, “Starvation Inn, Lake 
Putrid,” in the Adirondacks. I represented Joey 
Wheeze, a stranded circus clown. When a famous 
tragedian who was expected to give a performance 
at the hotel was unable to appear, the thrifty land- 
lord engaged Joey to fill his place. 

In the burlesque I had scenes with Ophelia 
(played by Maude Raymond), with the grave- 
diggers and with the King and Queen. I dressed 
and made up the part with scrupulous care as to 
tradition. I used all the grace of voice and gesture 
that I could command, but the words I spoke were 
ridiculous parodies of the original lines. At the 
very last moment I longed — oh, how wistfully I — 
to play just one scene in the original words, as I 
had longed to do it thirty years before. I scarcely 
needed the director’s reminder, however, of what 
I already knew — that such would be out of key 
with the farcical nature of the rest of the per- 
formance. 

The fact that upon occasion I could be something 

302 





CLOWNING. THROUGH LIFE 

else than a Punchinello was a decided revelation to 
many. A Philadelphia critic remarked, “For once 
we see the comedian becomingly garbed, and it was 
to be noted that he has an admirable stage presence, 
that his reading is good when he wanted it to be 
so, and that he has a grace of movement and an 
authority which are quite compelling.” The Wash- 
ington Star declared that “It may be a shock to 
the matinee girl who has been worshipping pic- 
tures of E. H. Sothern and Forbes- Robertson, but 
the handsomest Hamlet on the stage today is Eddie 
Foy.” Ah, well! I was only fifty-two then, though 
many observers avowed that I succeeded in making 
Hamlet look like twenty- two. 

The Pittsburg Post man wrote that “Several 
years ago Eddie Foy made the statement that his 
comedy face was largely deliberate effort on his 
part — a combination of grease paint and muscular 
contraction. People who had known Eddie for 
years were inclined to laugh, for they had always 
seen him with the same sandy wig, the crescent- 
shaped mouth, the dab of carmine on the nose and 
the lines above the eyes. No matter what he was 
playing, Eddie Foy was always Eddie Foy, with 
the same rolling gait, the comical guttural voice 
and all else that have made him such a success in 
clowning. 

“3ut when he comes out in the traditional cos- 

303 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

tume of Hamlet, the black garb, the black wig, the 
chain and ribbons, one gasps with astonishment, 
for the picture is really a handsome one. When he 
speaks the first lines with the true legitimate in- 
tonations and in a voice that has considerable 
warmth and sympathy, one gasps again, for the old 
Eddie Foy has given place to a real actor.” 

I’m quoting all this to show up those birds in the 
Lambs Club who (in heavy sarcasm, of course) 
promoted the presentation of a medal to me some 
years ago as the handsomest member. Seriously, the 
pulchritudinous Hamlet face was about as much 
a matter of make-up as the clownish mug usually 
affected by me. My real face was somewhere in be- 
tween the two. And perhaps there’s yet another rea- 
son for those quotations. In spite of all that I’ve 
said in laudation of the comedian’s profession, I 
still like to prove, as do all buffoons, that I can do 
something other than prance in cap and bells, with 
grotesque face and nonsense on my lips. 

The liamlct travesty occupied me for the better 
part of two seasons. In 1910 I was cast in a piece 
called Up and Down Broadway, which title seems 
a bit incongruous when one learns that some of the 
scenes were laid on Olympus and were thronged 
with the well-known divinities who formerly in- 
habited that eminence. Of these Emma Cams as 
Melpomene and I as Momus carried the front end 
304 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

of the fun-making, while the other Muses, Graces 
and the like, intermingled with about an equal 
number of mortals, made up an interesting circle. 

From 1911 to 1913 I carried the lead in a com- 
edy with music, entitled Over the River, which was 
noteworthy because of the fact that John Golden, 
now a millionaire New York producer but then 
still a moderately successful composer (and that 
was only fifteen years ago), wrote the music. In 
this play I acknowledged my increasing years by 
assuming a middle-aged man’s part for the first 
time — that of Madison Parke, an old rounder who, 
becoming too vociferous on the Great White Way, 
was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island for thirty days, 
and tried to make his wife believe he had gone to 
Mexico. Maude Lambert, Melville Stewart and 
several other clever people were in the cast, and we 
toured the whole country with it. 

That was my last play. Thenceforward I was in 
vaudeville. But in order to discuss the vaudeville 
experience, I shall have to turn back and tell some- 
thing of the Foyettes. 


305 




XXII 


I HAVE much greater satisfaction in my record 
as a family man than in my achievements as a 
comedian. I have a genuine pride in the two facts 
that I am the father of eight fine children, and that, 
although an actor, I have never been divorced — 
that is, not yet. Still, come to think of it, I’m only 
seventy-one ! 

My wife, Madeline Morando, whom I married 
in 1896, had won her laurels as a danseuse; but in 
later years she proved herself to be even greater as 
a mother than she had ever been as a representative 
of Terpsichore. She not only became the mother 
of seven bright and handsome boys and girls and 
brought them all up to a gracious maturity, but 
she also contrived to make most of them look more 
Italian than Irish. 

When we moved our place of abode from Chi- 
cago to New York there were two sons, Bryan and 
Charles; and thereafter the birthdays came rap- 
idly. We located first in an uptown apartment, 
and there Richard, the third boy, was born, fol- 
lowed by Mary, my second daughter. I was com- 
pelled to call upon so many of my friends to serve 

307 



CLOWNING THROUGH 


LIFE 


as god lathers and godmothers that if we hadn’t 
kept a careful roster of them, I shouldn’t at this 
day be able to tell who half of them were. 

Soon after Mary came to join our family in 1901, 
we went down to our church at Seventh Avenue 
and 142d Street for the christening ceremony. Ac- 
cording to one of the newspapers, this is the col- 
loquy that followed: 

“What is to be the name of this child?” asked 
Father; Fliggins. 

“Mary,” replied Mr. Foy. 

“Who are the godfather and godmother?” 

“My friend, Mr. William Jerome, and my niece, 
Miss Montmorency,” said Mr. Foy, nervously. 

“What is your real name, Mr. Foy?” demanded 
Father Fliggins. 

“]My real — my real — did you say my real name?” 
inquired Mr. Foy with blanched face. 

“I did.” 

“Well — I hope you will keep this to yourself, 
Father — it is Fitzgerald,” said the comedian. 

“Indeed! And what is Mr. Jerome’s name?” 

“My name is William I'lannery,” said Mr. 
Jerome desperately. “I didn’t think this of you, 
Father.” 

“And Miss Montmorency; what is her actual 
family name?” 

.108 



c L 0 W.N 1 N G ‘THROUGH LIFE 

“Well, if you must know, it is Doyle,” said Miss 
Montmorency with a deep, dark blush. 

“Thank you,” said the priest. “Now we will pro- 
ceed to business.” 

My wife and I now decided that a city apart- 
ment was no place for children, so we rented a 
semi-country house at Harrison in Westchester 
County, between New Rochelle and Rye. In 1904, 
having prospered comfortably in my profession, I 
bought a home on the Boston Post Road in the 
eastern edge of New Rochelle, almost in Larch- 
mont. This we named “The Foyer,” and there the 
children may be said to have been reared — ^what 
time they were not on the road with me. Three 
more came to join the flock — Eddie, Junior, the 
only real blonde in the family, Madeline, and 
Irving. 

New Rochelle had already a strong dramatic 
atmosphere when we located there, Francis Wil- 
son, Augustus Thomas and others more or less 
directly connected with the stage having homes 
there in a borough. But don’t imagine that we were 
all just around the corner from each other; New 
Rochelle is a larger city than some are aware of. 
My home was so far on the outskirts, nearly two 
miles from the business center, that it was a real 
country place when I bought it — several acres of 

309 



c L 0 W- N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

it, with forest trees right in the yard, and far in the 
rear a gently sloping hillside with a few big boul- 
ders jutting from it; an ideal playground for the 
youngsters. And alongside us were some level va- 
cant lots which were obviously created for baseball. 
Neighbors were rather few and scattering at that 
time, and there was therefore not so much danger 
of breaking windows when one threw stones, as one 
must necessarily do in early youth. 

We had all the rural comforts and conveniences; 
a cow which — all funny wheezes to the contrary 
notwithstanding I actually learned to milk — a 
horse (until automobiles drove him out of busi- 
ness), chickens, ducks, pigeons, fruit trees, flowers, 
cats, dogs and even at one time a goat. The goat, 
however, is not, I believe, considered a rustic 
animal. 

Here we had not only our own children but at 
various times two or three others whom we prac- 
tically adopted because they were temporarily or 
permanently deprived of their parents. Newspaper 
writers represented passengers on the Stamford 
interurban car as inquiring of the conductor, “Is 
that an orphan asylum?” 

“Naw,” would be the reply. “That’s where 
Eddie Foy lives.” 

It got so that if anyone in Westchester County 
found a lost child, he immediately called up “The 




i:-. I-o. ,, 



CLOWNING THROUGH L I F g 

Foyer” to see if it was one of mine. I used to wake 
up in the morning and worry for fear it was some- 
body’s birthday and I had forgotten it. 

“How do you think up names for all the kids, 
Eddie?” said Willie Collier to me one day. When 
the birth of one of my sons was announced at the 
Shubert offices, Lee Shubertsaid to me half joking, 
half seriously, “Why don’t you name him after me, 
Eddie?” 

“I’d like to do it, Lee,” said I. “Indeed, it would 
give me great pleasure if it were practicable. But 
consider a moment and you’ll see why it won’t do. 
Lee Foy! Why, everybody who heard it would 
think he was a Chinaman!” 

One day in the summer of 1 904, I think it was, a 
hotel proprietor, a friend of mine from Elberon, 
New Jersey, while talking with me in a Broadway 
cafe, invited me to come down and spend the week 
end at his comfortable hostelry. 

“I’d enjoy it enormously, old man,” said I, “but 
Sunday is when I really get acquainted with ray 
family. Up late every night, you know — sleep late 
next forenoon — ^then maybe a matinee. Sunday is 
our general rally day at home.” 

“Oh, pshaw, bring the family along,” said he. 
“You can get acquainted with them down at my 
hotel just as well as you can at home. Big veran- 
das — ^fine sand beach for the kids to play in ; they’ll 

311 



0 L 0 I F .V / N G. THROUGH LIFE 

have a whale of a time. Come down on the early 
train Sunday morning and stay till Monday. No 
excuses accepted.” 

He didn’t ask me how large my family was and 
it didn’t occur to me to tell him. After some de- 
murring, I accepted his invitation. On Sunday 
morning when we debouched from the train at 
Elberon, we found a carriage waiting to take us 
up to my friend’s hotel. I went to a telephone and 
called him up. 

“You’ll have to send two more carriages, Bill,” 

1 told him. 

“Two more carr — what for?” he stuttered. 

“Well, you told me to bring my family along,” I 
reminded him, apologetically. “I have five chil- 
dren — and then there’s my wife and my wife’s 
sister and my own sister and a nurse; they’re all 
members of my family, you know; not to speak of 
a few hand bags and so on.” 

I could hear him gasp, faintly, “Good God!” 
But he was game. Two more carriages came scurry- 
ing down to the station in a few minutes. If he 
hadn’t owned a hotel and had plenty of room to 
spare, I wouldn’t have played such a trick on him. 
He was able to laugh at tiie Joke before the day was 
over, but he didn’t invite me again to come and 
bring all the family. 

Seriously, there is in all the world no anchor so 
312 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

efficacious for a vagrant spirit as a house full of 
children. I have not the slightest thought of setting 
myself up as a model of conduct, for I’m far from 
that; but I wish merely to suggest that if more 
actors and actresses could be induced to try the 
bucolic domestic life as I did, with plenty of chil- 
dren on the side, there’d be fewer divorces and 
far less unrest and unhappiness in the profession. 

Before I married Madeline I was a very fluent 
and graceful spender. My wife changed all that, 
and in spite of the size of my family I saved money 
and began to accumulate real estate. That house 
full of folks, all mine, had a mighty comforting 
and steadying effect on me, too, when I was away 
from home; and when not on the road, I spent 
every spare moment there. I was as proud of that 
little string of nicely graduated heads as the mother 
of the Gracchi was of her jewels. 

As the kids grew old enough to play baseball, we 
gradually developed a family team all our own. 
I was so deeply absorbed in a game with them one 
day that I failed to notice the flight of time, al- 
though I was expected to go down to the city to 
catch a train for Providence, where I was to appear 
that night. Suddenly I remembered! I looked at 
my watch— it was too late to catch the train at the 
Grand Central Station or even at 12Sth Street. I 
drove at top speed to the station in New Rochelle 



c L 0 W, N I N G THROUGH LIFE 

and begged the agent to wire somebody for permis- 
sion to flag the train there. He declared such a 
thing impossible. I induced him to wire the super- 
intendent, then the general manager, and tried to 
bribe him to call the president of the road. He 
seemed to make no progress whatsoever. First one 
ofiicial and then another insisted that to stop such a 
fast train at our village was out of the question. 
With perspiration beading my countenance, I kept 
my eyes on my watch. Presently I knew that the 
train had left New York; now it was well on its 
way. I besought the agent to wire again and give 
the manager all the facts — how that my failing to 
reach Providence that evening would probably 
mean the loss of my job and the throwing of a fam- 
ily of eleven or twelve on to the county, and that 
the cost of stopping the train would not cut any 
figure with me. I must get aboard even if I had to 
flag it myself. Finally, when the train was almost in 
sight, came the welcome word, “Stop it!” 

Some of my happiest hours on the road with 
various shows were those when my wife and chil- 
dren travelled with me — as they did several times. 
Our greatest exploit of this sort was in the winter 
of 1912-13, my last season with Over the River, 
when the whole blooming outfit accompanied me 
for several months, Irving, the youngest, being 
then less than four years old. I must admit that this 
314 



c L O W N I NC ‘THROUGH LIFE 

Stunt was not entirely innocent of publicity designs, 
for we had decided to take the bunch into vaude- 
ville in the following season. 

We had of course spent many hours in thought- 
ful, not to say anxious, observation of the young- 
sters to ascertain if possible the particular bent of 
each; and not always with definite results. Bryan, 
for example, in his teens showed a great fondness 
for tinkering with automobile engines. We there- 
upon decided that he was going to be — no, no, not 
a mere dealer or repair shop owner, but a great 
automobile manufacturer. Instead of that, he is 
now firmly installed in the motion picture business. 
But with their parentage and environment as they 
were, it was natural that there should be in our 
children a decided tendency toward the stage. Two 
or three of the boys were at a very early age giving 
private imitations of me ; and one evening when the 
whole gang were engaged in a nightgown frolic, 
my wife and I looked them over and decided that 
they were good enough for vaudeville. 

I had done a few brief single turns in vaudeville 
in recent summers when my regular shows were 
vacationing, as they often used to do during the 
heated term, and so, although it had been thirty 
years since the old concert-hall days, vaudeville 
was not a novelty to me. I tried the youngsters out 
in August, 1912, and they seemed to have a very 

315 



THROUGH LIFE 


C L O m N I N G 

palpable knack of putting their stuff across. Wc 
began regularly in 1913. Our first sketch was 
called, for lack of a better title, Fun in the Foy 
Family. Later wc used The Old Woman Who 
Lived in a Shoe and Slumwhere in New York, 
which took well the country over. 

The quick wit of a successful writer of such 
sketches is well illustrated by a stunt of Will 
Jerome’s. Jerome, by the way, wrote several of our 
sketches and songs. I had taken the kids over to 
Bayside, Long Island, one evening to participate, 
along with a number of other professionals, in a 
benefit for a struggling little church. Wc were 
going to do a sort of impromptu act in street dress. 
As I was standing in the wings just before going on, 
I said to Jerome, who was beside me, “Give me a 
funny line to open with.” 

He pondered a moment. ‘'Let’s see,” he mur- 
mured. “You’re in front, the kids behind you as the 
curtain rises. The audience gives you an opening 
hand. You cast a glance back at the youngsters and 
say with a little smile, *If I ever move to Bayside, 
it’ll be a big cityl’” 

I did it, and the crowd howled with delight. 
Thereafter for a season or two I used that joke the 
country over, in cities big and little, from Boston 
to Seattle and Los Angeles; and in every town, one 
or more of die newspapers quoted the line next 
316 



c L 0 W N I K G. THROUGH 


LIFE 


morning as one of the outstanding bits of clever- 
ness of the act. 

I was in vaudeville with the kids about ten years. 
They were all children when we began, but when 
I finally dropped out of the act, they were all — 
with the exception of Irving — grown men and 
women I We used to have some rough sledding in 
the earlier years of the act because of the child 
labor laws in various States. Some reformers pro- 
fessed to see something very cruel in the picture of 
those little “tots” — that was the word generally 
used in speaking of them, though some of them 
were fourteen and sixteen years old — toiling and 
being exploited in so godless a place as a theatre. 

The Gerry people in New York gave us trouble, 
and in Cincinnati, Chicago and some other places 
I was actually indicted and arre.stcd. We had 
scarcely begun our work when in New York in 
September, 1913, I was summoned to court on 
complaint of the Children’s Society, But the or- 
ganization made a mistake in selecting as the basis 
of their complaint the charge that I caused my son 
Richard to sing on the stage of a certain theatre on 
a certain date a ballad called “And the Green 
Grass Grew All Around.” This left nothing for me 
to do but retort that Richard couldn’t sing a note 
and to prove not only by witnesses but by a demon- 
stration on the stand that the boy merely talked 

317 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

the words of the song to music. Whereupon the 
charge was dismissed. Blessings be on the man who 
invented technicalities 1 

Whenever I was summoned I showed that the 
children’s mother travelled with them all the time, 
as did a nurse and governess, and that they had 
their lessons every forenoon just as if they had been 
at home. Not only this, but we often spent fully 
half the year in our own home. I argued that it 
was ridiculous to call their few minutes on the 
stage in the afternoon and evening “work,” for 
they loved it and regarded it as no hardship. Fur- 
thermore, they delighted in the travelling and see- 
ing new cities, and I considered this an important 
part of their education. I pointed out that the 
children — most of them, at least — would probably 
make the stage their life profession, and they were 
merely receiving instruction, just as children were 
taught in technical schools. They had a playday 
every week, just as I did, and we made no stipula- 
tions as to how they spent their money, though they 
often bought junk which was extremely difficult to 
carry with us on our travels. My wife, who was 
couricr-in-chicf to the crowd, was sometimes 
driven almost distracted by the job of taking care 
of the musical instruments, giant dolls, mechanical 
toys, bearskins and other impedimenta, not to speak 
of live pets, %vhtch in addition to our regular 
31R 







CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

baggage and properties, must either be taken with 
us or shipped back to New Rochelle. 

We had some interesting scenes at our various 
trials, and I found the courts generally inclined to 
agree with my arguments. In Cincinnati (and 
other places) for example, Miss Curran, the chil- 
dren’s governess, produced her high school teach- 
er’s certificate, and the kids recited some of their 
lessons to prove that they were receiving a good 
education. Judge Ycatman remarked that he had 
seen the act and enjoyed it very much, and that it 
seemed foolish to deplore the condition of these 
children, who were under the constant care of their 
father and mother. “I respect the law,” said he, 
“and I respect the Juvenile Protective Associa- 
tion, but in my opinion this is a wrongful arrest, 
and such things as this and other reform gestures 
merely retard progress.” He then dismissed the 
case, descended from the bench and taking my wife 
by the hand, congratulated her on being the mother 
of so large and so fine a family. 

There was considerable annoyance and worry in 
connection with these affairs, and there was always 
the possibility that one of them might turn out 
badly for us, but I must admit that they had their 
brighter sides in that they gave us a lot of free 
publicity. In Louisville, however, in supposedly 
hospitable old Kentucky, we ran up against some 

319 



CLOWNING THROUGH L 1 F £ 

particularly pestiferous opposition on the part of 
certain naggers who were determined to drive us 
out of business; and that in the city which nurtured 
Mary Anderson and where she made her debut as 
Juliet at the age of sixteen. I dare say Mary or her 
folks — or both — ^would have gotten into jail if they 
had come back and tried it thirty-five years later. 

I was arrested there no less than three times in 
rapid succession, and would have been arrested 
again, but my attorney advised me to give up the 
fight, cut short my week’s, engagement and get out 
of the State. So that night after the show we all 
quietly slipped across the river to New Albany, in 
Indiana, and escaped another pinch next day. My 
good friend, Colonel Henry Watterson, editor of 
the Courier-Journal, in whose home 1 spent many 
happy hours, was then still alive, and he wrote 
some very trenchant editorials and articles up- 
holding my side of the case. Largely through his 
agency this question was so thoroughly aired that 
the Legislature soon thereafter saw fit to amend the 
law so as to permit stage appearances such as that 
of my children; and the Governor, who had been 
an ardent patron of mine, sent me the pen with 
which he had signed the new act. 

This reminds me that I have had pleasant con- 
tacts vvith a great many pnimincnt people of my 
time. For example, I’ll wager that I’m one of a 
320 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

comparatively few persons living whose car has 
been cranked by Henry Ford. 

It happened some thirteen or fourteen years ago, 
before Henry was quite as colossally wealthy or 
even as world-famous as he is now. I was becoming 
pretty well known as a user of his cars. From 
motives of economy, the first car I ever bought was 
a I’ord, and I stuck to the brand for several years. 

The Ford store in New York was then at Fifty- 
fourth Street and Broadway. During the show one 
evening I had left my flivver at their place to have 
some adjustment or other made. I had had an argu- 
ment or two with the management over the replace- 
ment of small parts, and I had developed a bit of 
a grouch over the matter. I had given the car con- 
siderable advertising — had had myself photo- 
graphed with my wife and kids distributed all 
over the machine, and an enlargement of the pic- 
ture was even then hanging in the store window — 
and I thought they ought to treat me a little more 
liberally. 

When I went up to the Ford studio after the 
show that evening, my car was parked at the curb 
in front. It was a frosty night, and when I tried to 
start the engine, it balked. I cranked and cranked, 
meanwhile muttering comments on the car and 
my luck in general, until my breath began to give 
out. 


321 



CLOWNING THROUGH L I F £ 

Finally, a stranger who, with his wife, had 
stopped to look at the picture of myself and family 
in the window, came out to the curb and said in a 
kindly way, “You seem to be having trouble.” He 
was rather tall and lank — ^looked like a working 
man with his Sunday clothes on, I thought 

“Trouble is no name for it,” I replied. “I believe 
the dashed thing’s quit for good.” 

“Let me try it,” said he. He stepped down off 
the curb, took hold of the crank, gave it one quick, 
expert twitch, and the motor started humming 
merrily. 

“You certainly must have played a trick on that 
engine,” said I, amazed. 

“They know better than to fool with me,” he 
retorted. “My name is Henry Ford.” 

There was a dry grin on his thin, shrewd, yet 
rather gentle-looking face. I gazed at him and his 
wife with much interest. She was just a plain, 
motherly looking American housewife, simply 
dressed. 

“I know you, too,” said he, pointing a lean fore- 
finger, “Your picture’s there in the window.” 

“Yc.s,” said I, “and I’ve got a grievance, Mr. 
Ford. I’ve given your car about ten thou.sand 
dollars’ worth of free advertising, and those nuitts 
of yours in there won’t even give me a nut or a 
screw when one shakes off on the roatl.” 

322 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

‘‘Is that so?” said he. “I’m sorry. I’ll see that you 
get some service.” 

I went home much elated and told my wife that 
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Henry sent me a 
gold-mounted car as a souvenir of the meeting and 
in recognition of my services. 

But three weeks — nearly a month — went by, and 
nothing happened. Then one day two expressmen 
came staggering up to my front door with a whale 
of a box — from the Ford Company. After consid- 
erable toil with a hammer and chisel, I pried the 
heavy lid off, and there inside, each in a separate 
box or package, each ticketed with instructions as 
to its use and placement, was one specimen of every 
Ixdt, nut, screw, cotter pin and suspender button 
used in holding a Ford car together. For some time 
I went around telling everybody that Ford had no 
sense of humor, but some of my friends were of the 
opinion that he was a better joker than I was. 

When America entered the war, our Foy vaude- 
ville team lost one of its star performers, for Bryan, 
though he had not yet quite reached man’s estate, 
entered the Navy and served through the conflict 
with honor. Fie had for some time been writing 
songs for our act, and his presence was sorely 
missed. Among other successful songs which he has 
written was one which lifted Gallagher and Shcan 
out of comparative obscurity as a team of rather 

323 



c L 0 JF N 1 N G r H R o U G H L I F E 

discouraged vaudeville performers, put them into 
the Zicgfcid Follies and made them nationally 
famous. After that, they were never able to find 
another song as good; they dropped back out (>f 
prominence again, and I believe arc now playing 
separately. 

But the vaudeville team and the Foy family had 
another heavy loss before the Great \\ ar was over. 
I had built a new and more pretentious home in (he 
more beautiful residence section of New R<)chel1c 
and there my wife and I had expected to spend 
our old age together. But these hopes were blasted 
when, after a brief illness, she died in ibIS, sincere- 
ly mourned by a community where she had become 
very popular and had conferred many benefac- 
tions. 

1 carried on with the children in vaudeville for 
about live years longer, and then did a short season 
in iny last play, Tht’ Casey (/irl, in which I played 
the Irish father of the family and tny sons and 
daugliter.s handlcil most of the (tthcr parts. At the 
end of that run I retired, at the early age of 
si.xty-scven. 


324 



XXIII 


In addition to serving half a century and more 
on the stage, I made just one venture into another 
form of amusement — namely, motion pictures. Ten 
or eleven years ago, when the multiple reel pictures 
were becoming popular and the great expansion 
era had arrived in the cinema business, certain film 
companies in California proceeded to make an 
effort to corner all the stage stars living and either 
retain them in its service or put them out of the 
running as movie actors. 

The corporation in Hollywood which secured 
my services was made up of three units. One of 
these was a comedy organization whose director- 
in-chief had only recently been a blacksmith by 
trade. This man, in common with other movie di- 
rectors, regarded the custard pic as not only the 
moat valuable of comedy props but the funniest 
thing in all Nature. Most of these directors had 
their own type of performers — ^unknown to fame 
until they saw the screen — and preferred them to 
stage-trained actors; and they succeeded in killing 
the stage star’s chances on the screen by throwing 

325 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

him into unfavorable contrast with certain regular 
cinema actors used in the same picture. 

When I was about to be starred in my first pic- 
ture I insisted that my children be taken in with 
me, and after a hard battle, I won. The story wc 
used had a circus background setting; but no 
matter whether the background was a circus tent, a 
college campus, a Chinatown hop joint, a glue 
factory or the palace at Versailles, there must be a 
place made for the custard pie. In the course of 
three or four days I was hit with all the pies in 
stock in Los Angeles, and others had to be hastily 
imported from San Francisco. I found that the 
movie custard pie is an imitation product, and 
doesn’t even taste good. 

I did well enough in my first picture to secure 
for me a contract to do several more. But then 
there came one of th<ise stock-jobbing twists so 
common in the cinema business — reorganisation, 
realignment; and my contract, after considerable 
negotiation, was cancelled, though I demanded and 
received by way of compromise a sum which in 
earlier days would have been et}uivalcnt to several 
years’ salary, t had had enough of the c.xperience, 
anyhow. Being smeared from head to fi»t)t ivith 
synthetic custard was never my idea of art or 
humor, so I gladly took my flock of assistant fun- 
makers back into good old harum-scarum vaude- 
326 



THK Ftnmrff Mrs, Fov 




CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ville, where the rewards, even if slightly less per 
week, are surer, and managerial imaginings as to 
what the public wants are less muddled and ca- 
pricious. 

Being a strong believer in the Biblical doctrine 
that it is not good for man to be alone, I married 
again, my bride this time being Miss Marie 
Combs. And now, at seventy-one, here I am back 
in harness again 1 I thought I had said my farewell 
to the stage in 1923 when I played for a shori 
season in That Casey Girl. But the call of the foot- 
lights was too strong to resist. Tom Barry, a clever 
writer of vaudeville skits, got up a sketch for me 
entitled The Fallen Star, and when tried out 
with the Kcith-Albee people in August, 1927, it 
was such a hit that I was booked for one solid year 
in it — which will take me from coast to coast again, 
over many dear, familiar scenes of bygone days. 

So there I was, that August week, back in the 
old “Palace” on Broadway, the street of streets, the 
ultimate goal of every actor’s ambition. “It may 
be only a street to some people,” I say in my act, 
“but to some of the rest of us, it’s a religion I” 

In this sketch I portray an old stage doorkeeper, 
an ex-actor and forgotten Broadway star, who 
plays an advisory part in the affairs of a vaudeville 
dance team, a youth and a girl whose business part- 
nership has developed into love and then is threat- 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

ened with shipwreck. As the clocks begin striking 
the small hours of the morning, the old actor falls 
into a soliloquy and drifts back on the wings of 
memory to those enchanted nights of thirty years 
before, when he was at the pinnacle of his succcss-- 
when it was a question after the show whether tf> 
finish the evening at Shanlcy’s, Jack’s, Rector's or 
Billy Considine’s Metropole — all places of good 
cheer now long since passed away. Fancying him- 
self seated at his favorite table, the then popular 
idol looks about him and secs many friends, some 
prominent at the moment, some whose glory was 
yet to come — Lillian Russell, for example, then the 
Queen of Beauty; Gcorgie Cohan, a bright lad just 
getting a start as an actor; AI Smith, the rising 
young alderman from the Fourth Ward; Irvin 
Cobb, the best young newspaper reporter in Ntnv 
York—and many others now passed from the scene 
or in greatly changed situations. 

It happened that during my week at the Palace, 
Tom Heath, the comedian, celebrated one day at 
noon n{)t tmly his birthday but the fifty-fourth anni- 
versary of his record-breaking partnership with 
McIntyre— and a large delegation of old-finters 
from two actors’ homes in tlie vicinity of New 
York were present at the afTair. In *u‘der to round 
out tfic day perfectly, they luui seats at tlte Palace 
for the matinee, and came directly over there from 
331 



CLOWNING THROUGH LIFE 

Hcatli’s party. When my act was over, the whole 
crowd came trooping back to my dressing room 
and we had a talkfcst and a “Do-you-remember” 
contest which lasted until long after the orchestra 
had played the recessional and the last of the 
matinee crowd had drifted out into Broadway. 

“Memoricsl” e.xclaims the old star, as he shuffles 
towards the stage door for his last exit. “Memories ! 
the only beautiful thing in life that no one can take 
away from us.” 

In my fifty years’ connection with the stage I’ve 
seen an army of players born, live and pass away. 
Some who were just chipping the shell after I’d 
gotten well started on the road, have strutted their 
hour or two and vanished — many of them dead, 
many broken in health, some retired in comfort, 
others passed out for divers reasons. Maude 
Adams, crowning a youth of labor with an age of 
ease, Marguerite Clark, married to a millionaire, 
Jimmy Sullivan, dropping around to the bank now 
and then to clip a few coupons, Henry Miller 
dead — these arc samples of those whom I saw in 
their theatrical swaddling clothes. And how many, 
many others are treading the boards yet who did 
their first work as callow fledglings in companies 
with me. Richard Bennett, Eva Tanguay and Le- 
nore Ulric, for example (not to mention many 

329 



CLOWNING r n R O U G n LIFE 

others less noted) all got their start by singing 
in the chorus of one or another of my shows. 

My good old mother, who died several years ago 
at the age of eighty-four, finally decided that I was 
a real actor, with a legitimate — even if to her in- 
conceivably trivial — method, which didn’t seem to 
pall on the public as she had feared it would do. 
I hope and believe that there are some thousands 
of others who likewise admit my reason for being. 

While I have not fulfilled my boyish ambition, 
yet I have no little consolation and indeed satisfac- 
tion in the knowledge that I succeeded in the line 
which seemed to choose me rather than be chosen 
by me, and that I have lightened many an hour for 
the careworn. I have never given the serious think- 
ers anything to discuss at their club meetings, but 
I have helped thousands to forget life’s troubles 
for an evening — and that is somethingl 

The buffoon may be a good citizen and may 
have a sober and serious purpose in life. Ik may 
even be a very sad person. I have escaped that, for 
though I’ve had my share of trouble and sorrow, 
I’ve had, I suppose, no more than my share. A 
rather hard and de.stitute youth was balanced hy a 
middle age somewhat opulent in more ways than 
one. Fate held me back from success for m.iny 
years ; and even after T seemed to have attained it, 

I had some hard knocks; but a buoyant spirit 

m 



CLOWNING r II R 0 U G 1/ LIFE 

which carried me even joyously through a poverty- 
stricken boyhood also enabled me to surmount 
these later difficulties without serious wear and tear 
on body or soul. On the whole, life has been a 
pretty jolly affair. I have no complaints to make, 
and few regrets. 


THE END 


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